Crowds mass in Iraq's Karbala for mourning ritual

Huge crowds of black-clad Shi`ite faithful massed in the Iraqi city of Karbala on Saturday, crying and beating their chests to commemorate the 7th century killing of the prophet's grandson.

AFP| Updated: Oct 24, 2015, 20:36 PM IST

Karbala: Huge crowds of black-clad Shi`ite faithful massed in the Iraqi city of Karbala on Saturday, crying and beating their chests to commemorate the 7th century killing of the prophet's grandson.

The holy day of Ashura was marred by attacks in Pakistan and Bangladesh but unfolded peacefully in southern Iraq, where last year's security fears have given way to political grievances.

Gathered under the golden dome of Imam Hussein's mausoleum in Karbala, devotees clutching paper tissues wailed and wiped their tears as they listened to accounts of Hussein's death.

The dirge cantor himself repeatedly choked back tears as he sang the praise of Hussein, whose 680 AD killing by the armies of Caliph Yazid lies at the heart of the Sunni-Shi`ite schism.

Many Shi`ite worshippers travel from neighbouring Iran and other countries each year to visit the shrine, which lies about 80 kilometres (50 miles) southwest of Baghdad.

Millions of others across the Shi`ite world, from Lebanon to south Asia, hold processions in their home towns, performing a variety of rituals, many involving flagellation.

Some beat their backs to a drumbeat using chains or blades. Others beat their heads with a sword until their faces and their white mourning robes are covered in blood.

Karbala and other cities hosted traditional reenactments of Hussein's martyrdom, complete with horseback warriors and the torching of the camp where the third Shi`ite imam and his vastly outnumbered followers made their last stand.

The 10th day of the mourning month of Muharram has been marred by attacks in the past and Iraq deployed tens of thousands of security forces across the country.

"Our forces have set up a security plan that includes more than 20,000 members of the security forces," Qais Khalaf Rahima, a senior army commander, told a news conference in Karbala yesterday.

They formed three concentric security rings around Karbala, banned traffic in the city centre three days ago and used special explosives detection equipment, he and the Karbala police chief explained.

The measures are aimed at reducing the risk of suicide bomb attacks by the Islamic State, an extremist Sunni group which controls parts of Iraq and considers Shi`ites heretics.
 

Karbala province borders the vast Anbar region, which is an IS stronghold.

Baghdad's early efforts in the counter-offensive that followed the devastating jihadist assault launched across Iraq in June 2014 focused on securing Karbala and the other holy Shiite city of Najaf, further south.

Military operations against IS south of Baghdad were successful and the commemorations in Karbala, as well as the various processions in Baghdad and southern Iraq, felt less exposed than last year's.