From across Iraq and neighboring states, millions of Shi’ite pilgrims are heading this week to the city of Karbala for a religious ceremony that authorities say radical Sunni fighters are targeting for attack.
Already hundreds of thousands of Shiite faithful, many from adjacent Iran, have visited Karbala for rituals which culminate in Saturday’s Arbain holy day -- the last of 40 days’ mourning for the death in battle of Imam Hussein 13 centuries ago.
Roads and highways across Iraq have been filled with black-clad pilgrims heading on foot to Karbala, a journey which can take days, carrying banners bearing Hussein’s image.
Arbain, a defining ritual of Shiite Islam and its rift with Sunnism, has frequently triggered militant attacks. This year it unfolds for the first time since the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) Sunni Muslim fighters seized control of much of north and west Iraq.
“We have information that they will try to infiltrate crowds of pilgrims and kill civilians everywhere,” Shiite Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said this week during a visit to Karbala, about 80 kilometers south-west of Baghdad.
Abadi said security forces would thwart any attempt to disrupt Arbain, but they face a double challenge.
Not only are many troops diverted to tackle ISIS fighters elsewhere -- forcing authorities to rely more heavily on Shiite militia to keep order-- but this year’s flood of foreign visitors has been swollen by Iraq’s decision to ease visa requirements for Arbain pilgrims.
نستخدم ملفات الكوكيز لنسهل عليك استخدام مواقعنا الإلكترونية ونكيف المحتوى والإعلانات وفقا لمتطلباتك واحتياجاتك الخاصة، لتوفير ميزات وسائل التواصل الاجتماعية ولتحليل حركة المرور لدينا...اعرف أكثر