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Why World’s largest cemetery is growing bigger

The world’s largest cemetery in Iraq’s Shi’ite holy city of Najaf is expanding at double its usual rate as the nation’s death rate increased with the war on Islamic State.

Jihad Abu’Saybi, a historian of the cemetery, said on Wednesday in Najaf that the pace of daily burials rose to between 150 and 200 after Islamic State, the ultra-hardline Sunni group overran a third of the country in 2014.

He said that the rate used to be 80 and 120 a day.

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The Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for “Peace Valley,” had a special place in the hearts of Shi’ite Muslims as it surrounds the Mausoleum of their first imam, Ali Bin Abi Talib, a cousin and son-in-law of Prophet Mohammad.

Shi’ite paramilitary often visited Ali’s golden-domed shrine before heading to the frontlines to battle Islamic State, while requesting to be laid to rest in Wadi al-Salam should they be killed as a reward for their sacrifice.

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Abu’Saybi said that as the land became scarce, the cost of a standard 25 square meter family burial lot had risen to 4,100 dollars.

He said that the amount almost doubled the amount paid for the same lots before violence escalated as IS exerted control over large swathes of north and western Iraq in 2014.

“Millions of graves of different shapes lie in the roughly 10 square km (4 square miles) cemetery that attracts burials from Shiites all over the world.

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“By nationality, Iraq’s Iranian neighbours are thought to come second in number the people interred near Ali’s golden-domed shrine,’’ he said.

The historian said that the graves were often built with baked bricks and plaster, decorated with Koranic calligraphy, while some graves were above the ground tombs reflecting the wealth of those within.

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