Shia Muslims throng Iraqi shrine city to commemorate Ashura

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Hundreds of thousands of Shia Muslims on Tuesday marked Ashura in Iraq’s holy city of Karbala, the burial place of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed.

The emotional event commemorates the 7th century battlefield martyrdom of Hussein whom Shias view as the rightful successor to the Prophet Mohammed.

To mourn his death in the year 680, Shia worshipers wearing black cry and beat their chests in unison and some flagellate themselves with swords and knife-edged chains.

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Shias represent more than 10 percent of the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims, and Ashura is marked by millions of people from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Iran and Lebanon.

Hussein lies entombed in a golden-domed mausoleum in Karbala, where he was killed by the Sunni troops. His mausoleum is linked to that of his brother Abbas, who also died in the battle.

This year’s festivities, which began on Monday evening, come as Iraq’s majority Shia population is split between rival political camps.

Backers of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr were continuing a sit-in outside parliament in Baghdad for a 10th day on Tuesday.

They oppose the Coordination Framework, an alliance of pro-Iran Shia factions that has tried to appoint a prime minister against al-Sadr’s wishes.

“The Shia house is divided,” said Yussef al-Ardawi, 50, an employee of the Abbas Mausoleum. “We didn’t expect this from Shia politicians.”

Another worshiper, 24-year-old medical laboratory worker Hussein from Nasiriyah in the south, said the tensions come as Iraqis face a litany of problems.

“We are in 2022 and we don’t even have electricity,” he said about the oil-rich but corruption-plagued country now enduring blistering summer heat.

“Imam Hussein rose up against injustice, against oppressive power,” he said. “All the people should rise up.”

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