Sporadic gunfire echoed through the center of Karbala early Wednesday after daylong clashes between rival Shi'ite armed groups claimed up to 51 lives and forced officials to abort a Shi'ite religious festival that had drawn up to 1 million pilgrims from around the world.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki arrived early Wednesday to meet with local officials trying to restore order and move the hordes of refugees away from the beleaguered city.
Security officials said Mahdi Army gunmen loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Tuesday fired on guards around two shrines protected by the Badr Brigade, the armed wing of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council.
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