Imam al-Khadim shrine in Baghdad
Shiite Muslims reach out to touch the tomb of Imam al-Kadhim located inside the Imam al-Kadhim shrine in Baghdad during the annual pilgrimage. Reuters

Millions of Shia Muslim pilgrims have gathered in Iraq for the annual Shiite pilgrimage at the Imam Kadhim shrine that culminates on Saturday.

The shrine, located in Baghdad's neighbourhood Kadhimiya, houses the tomb of Imam al-Kadhim (AD 745-799), who was the seventh of the 12 imams, the successors to the Islamic prophet Muhammad, of Shiite Islam.

Every year, Shia Muslims from across the country gather at the shrine to commemorate the death of Imam al-Kadhim.

The Kadhimiya region is also a holy place for Shiite Islam's ninth imam, Muhammad Taqi Al-Jawad (AD 811-835). During the pilgrimage, faithful pilgrims touch the tombs of the imams in an act to seek healing, forgiveness of their sins and the fulfilment of their needs.

According to Ahlul Bayt Digital Islamic Library Project (DILP), a registered Non Profit Organisation, before praying at both the tombs, pilgrims are required to first take bath, wear clean clothes and smear perfume all over. They then say the prayer which goes thus:

"Peace be upon thee, O Friend of God!
Peace be upon thee, O Proof of God!
Peace be upon thee, O Light of God!
O Light in the dark place of the earth!
Peace be upon him whom God advances in thy regard,
Behold I come as a pilgrim, who acknowledges your right,
Who hates your enemies and befriends your friends,
So intercede for me therefore with your Lord."

Over the past decade, the annual pilgrimage has been the target of Sunni militants who have killed or wounded more than thousands of Shiite pilgrims.

In fresh attacks reported in Baghdad on Friday, 17 Iraqis were killed and 25 injured even as Shiite pilgrims continued to gather in the capital to take part in the pilgrimage, according to AFP.