World's largest cemetery grows bigger as Shi'ite militias bury their dead

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Breathtaking Drone Footage of 'World's Biggest Cemetery'

BAGHDAD, Aug 23 (Reuters) - 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.

The Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley," has 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.

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The pace of daily burials rose to 150-200 after Islamic State, the ultra-hardline Sunni group overran a third of the country in 2014, said Jihad Abu Saybi, a historian of the cemetery. The rate was 80-120 a day previously, he said.

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

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Iraq's oldest cemetery growing quickly due to ISIS war
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Iraq's oldest cemetery growing quickly due to ISIS war
The Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", is seen in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq August 3, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani 
Tombs are seen at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq, August 3, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani 
Decayed dome is seen at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq, August 10, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani 
Mourners carry the coffin of their relative during a funeral in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq July 26, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani 
A boy digs a grave at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani 
Men bury a body at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani 
A woman holds containers which are used for washing the graves at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq July 28, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
People visit graves of their relative at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq August 5, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani 
A man holds empty containers that are used for washing graves at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq August 10, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani 
An undertaker smokes shisha at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq August 3, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani 
A woman prays inside the shrine of Imam Mahdi at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq August 1, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani 
A municipality worker pulls a trash container at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq August 5, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani 
A woman takes a selfie inside the shrine of Imam Mahdi at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq August 1, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
People line up to collect blessed water inside the shrine of Imam Mahdi at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq August 1, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
A woman washes the grave of her relative at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq August 5, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani 
A woman is seen at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq August 1, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani 
Residents visit the graves of their relatives at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani 
A man mourns on the grave of his relative at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani 
A man prays inside the shrine of Imam Mahdi at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq August 1, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani 
A man reads verses from the Koran at the grave of his relative at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq July 28, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani 
Tombs are seen at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq August 10, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani 
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As land becomes scarce, the cost of a standard 25 square meter family burial lot has risen to about 5 million Iraqi dinars ($4100) almost double 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. By nationality, Iraq's Iranian neighbors are thought to come second in number people interred near Ali's golden-domed shrine.

Often built with baked bricks and plaster, decorated with Koranic calligraphy, some graves are above ground tombs, reflecting the wealth of those within.

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