Iraqi forces de­ploy to guard Shi­ite pil­grims

Sect un­der fre­quent at­tack by Sunni ex­trem­ists

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Thou­sands of Iraqi se­cu­rity per­son­nel guarded ar­eas in and around Kar­bala yes­ter­day to pro­tect hun­dreds of thou­sands of Shi­ite pil­grims flock­ing to the shrine city for an­nual mourn­ing rit­u­als. Shi­ites in Iraq have come un­der fre­quent at­tack by Sunni ex­trem­ists of the Is­lamic State group who re­gard them as heretics and who still con­trol some ter­ri­tory in An­bar prov­ince, to the west of Kar­bala, though at­tacks in the city it­self are rare.

Imam Hus­sein, the grand­son of the Prophet Mo­hammed, is buried in Kar­bala, and Shi­ite pil­grims pack the city each year for Ashura com­mem­o­ra­tions, which mark his death in the 7th cen­tury. “Our forces from the army and lo­cal and fed­eral po­lice took strict se­cu­rity mea­sures cul­mi­nat­ing today to pro­tect pil­grims in and around Kar­bala,” po­lice spokesman Colonel Alaa al-Gha­n­imi told AFP. “Forces from the Hashed al-Shaabi have im­ple­mented se­cu­rity mea­sures to con­trol ar­eas in the west of Kar­bala prov­ince,” Gha­n­imi said, re­fer­ring to an um­brella or­gan­i­sa­tion for pro-govern­ment mili­ti­a­men.

Ac­cord­ing to Gha­n­imi, some 30,000 se­cu­rity per­son­nel are tak­ing part in ef­forts to guard the city and its sur­round­ings. Yes­ter­day, pil­grims sang songs about the story of Imam Hus­sein’s death, some beat­ing their chests with their hands or their backs with chains in mourn­ing. Black ban­ners were draped around the city, and pil­grims, most of them black-clad, packed the streets around the shrines of Imam Hus­sein and his brother Ab­bas. The num­ber of pil­grims par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Ashura com­mem­o­ra­tions is ex­pected to be huge, with Kar­bala deputy gover­nor Ali al-May­ali say­ing it was ex­pected to reach three mil­lion. Some 250,000 pil­grims have ar­rived over the past two days, May­ali said. Gha­n­imi said there had been no se­cu­rity breaches so far, and while IS fre­quently tar­gets Shi­ites in Bagh­dad and else­where, Kar­bala is usu­ally much more se­cure.

1,300 years of mourn­ing

IS claimed a Sun­day bomb­ing in Bagh­dad that hit a tent where Shi­ites were dis­tribut­ing re­fresh­ments on the oc­ca­sion of the com­mem­o­ra­tions for Imam Hus­sein, killing at least five peo­ple. Imam Hus­sein was killed in 680 AD by forces of the Caliph Yazid, and his death is marked every year on the 10th day of Muhar­ram, the first month of the Is­lamic cal­en­dar, which is known as Ashura. Imam Hus­sein’s death was part of a dis­pute over who should suc­ceed the Prophet Mo­hammed (PBUH), which even­tu­ally de­vel­oped into a bit­ter schism be­tween the Sunni and Shi­ite branches of Is­lam.

Some Mus­lims, who be­came known as Shi­ites, be­lieved that a blood rel­a­tive of the Prophet Mo­hammed (PBUH) should suc­ceed him as the spir­i­tual and tem­po­ral leader of Mus­lims, and backed his cousin and son-in-law Ali-Hus­sein’s fa­ther-as suc­ces­sor. Oth­ers, now known as Sun­nis, in­sisted that re­la­tion­ship to the prophet by blood was not re­quired-a po­si­tion that car­ried the day for his three im­me­di­ate suc­ces­sors be­fore Imam Ali be­came the fourth. Muawiyah, who founded the Umayyad dy­nasty, took power as caliph on Ali’s death, and, ac­cord­ing to Shi­ite tra­di­tion, named his son as suc­ces­sor in vi­o­la­tion of an agree­ment un­der which Imam Hus­sein should have suc­ceeded. Ac­cord­ing to Shi­ite be­lief, Imam Hus­sein went know­ingly to his death at the hands of Yazid’s forces in what is now Iraq in a bid to ex­pose the cor­rup­tion and ir­re­li­gios­ity of his rule. This ideal of self-sac­ri­fice is a key tenet of Shi­ite Is­lam to this day, in­spir­ing fol­low­ers to give their lives for causes, in­clud­ing the war against IS. Iraqi forces are cur­rently pre­par­ing for a fi­nal push on Mo­sul, the last city in Iraq held by IS, which has lost much of the ground it seized in 2014. —AFP

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