KARBALA (AFP) - More than two million faithful from across the Middle East swarmed the shrine city of Karbala in central Iraq on Wednesday for the climax of the annual Ashura ceremonies amid tight security. Weeping men and even young boys in flowing white robes marched with blood streaming down their faces after slashing their scalps open with knifes in a ritual that commemorates an imam slain 13 centuries ago. Accompanied by drummers and horn players, other mourners pounded on their chests and whipped their backs with metal chains as part of the devotional self-flagellation that characterises the dramatic annual rite. The focus of the mourners in the desert city of Karbala, 100km south of Baghdad, were two gold-domed holy shrines - one to Hazrat Imam Hussein (RA) and the other to his half-brother Hazrat Abbas (RA). More than two million mourners from across Iraq as well as from Iran, Bahrain, S Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Pakistan and Tanzania streamed into Karbala, said a city official. "We are here because of our belief and we are trying to do something so that Hazrat Imam Hussein (RA) will triumph in the end," said a mourner. Basheer Najem, 46, another mourner, proudly showed off his bleeding head. "I have been doing this for the past nine years. I don't feel any pain. After doing this I feel that have I fulfilled my duty." After prayer, the mourners performed a spectacular foot race in Karbala between the mausoleums of Hazrat Imam Hussein (RA) and Hazrat Abbas (RA), known as the "Twarij" and the last symbolic act of the pilgrimage. Security was also tight for Ashura rituals in the capital Baghdad, where a suicide bomber blew up in a crowd of mourners queuing at security gates leading to an important shrine on Sunday, killing 35 people and wounding dozens. The threat of violence did not however deter thousands of faithful at the Kadhamiyah tomb in Baghdad. "I wished that I had lived at the time of Hazrat Imam Hussein so I could have helped him," Haidar al-Hussein, 35, said. Baghdad officials had reported the bomber was a woman but said on Tuesday further investigation had revealed the bomber was a man. Nevertheless, officials in Baghdad had taken the unusual step of banning women from the Musa Kadhamiyah shrine in the north of the Iraqi capital until the end of Ashura. Maj-Gen Qassim Atta, Iraq's spokesman for security in Baghdad, said the decision to ban women from entering the area was aimed at facilitating the flow of people. "Searching women takes much longer," he told AFP.