Karbala is considering petitioning for a Guinness World Record for the number of Shiite pilgrims who visit the Iraqi shrine city for annual Arbaeen rituals, its governor told AFP on Saturday.
Amal al-Din al-Har admitted the move was partly motivated to convince those who are sceptical of official estimates of the numbers of pilgrims passing through Karbala during Arbaeen and the preceding Ashura commemorations.
"We will send an invitation to the Guiness Book of World Records to visit Karbala during the next Arbaeen, to see it and make a census of the pilgrims visiting Karbala," Har said, describing it as the world's biggest festival.
"We will submit a request to Karbala provincial council to send an official request."
The Guiness Book of World Records website does not list any corresponding records to the one Karbala is considering petitioning for.
It notes applicants can register to set a world record if they compile sufficient evidence or invite an official Guinness World Records adjudicator, assuming the Guinness Book of World Records accepts the application.
The final two weeks of Arbaeen this year saw 15 million pilgrims, including around 500,000 from outside Iraq, according to Karbala provincial authorities.
Media and observers argue that the figures are routinely overestimated.
"I thought of this idea three years ago," Har admitted, "because a lot of media and people doubt the number of visiting pilgrims announced by the province each year."
Arbaeen marks 40 days after the Ashura anniversary commemorating the slaying of Imam Hussein, one of Shiite Islam's most revered figures, by the armies of the caliph Yazid in 680 AD.
Hussein and his half-brother Abbas are both buried in the city.
The seventh century battle near Karbala is at the heart of the historical division between Islam's Sunni and Shiite sects.
Now-executed dictator Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime barred the vast majority of Ashura and Arbaeen commemorations.
Shiites make up around 15 percent of Muslims worldwide. They represent the majority populations in Iraq, Iran and Bahrain and form significant communities in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Pakistan, India and Saudi Arabia.