Masses of Shias commemorate the martyrdom of the seventh imam at the Al-Kādhimiya shrine, bringing the Iraqi capital to a standstill. Despite fears, no attacks or serious accidents have taken place. For the Chaldean Patriarch, the government has ensured “safe celebrations". The attempt to "national reconciliation" continues.
Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Religious celebrations in Iraq have been marred by attacks and terror in the recent past. The most recent event has seen the authorities do their utmost to protect believers and others.
"The government was keen to ensure security during the celebration. With this in mind, it cordoned off streets and roads in the capital,” Card Louis Raphael Sako said.
Speaking to AsiaNews about the major Shia celebration, the Chaldean Patriarch noted that “This shows that when there is the will, there is a way to prevent acts of violence.” In fact, "Streets and roads have been blocked to ensure that celebrations go off in complete security.”
“At present,” he explained, “[Islamic State] militants are involved in the battles of Mosul and Anbar, where they have concentrated their efforts. It is more difficult for them to organise attacks elsewhere.”
Still, although “Fighting is raging over there, nothing is certain as to when and how it will end. The Islamic State still controls some territory."
Over the weekend, hundreds of thousands of Shia Muslims visited Baghdad’s Al-Kādhimiya Mosque, which contains the tomb of seventh Twelver Shī‘ah Imām Mūsā al-Kādhim, to mark his martyrdom.
The main ritual ceremony was held on Sunday in the week-long event with worshippers gathering at the shrine in Al-Kāẓimiyyah, a northern district of the Iraqi capital.
Masses of pilgrims travelled to Baghdad to take part in one the most important Shia celebrations in Iraq. Some estimate at least six million visitors during this period. Over the last few years, the event has grown in size, to the point that the Iraqi capital becomes paralysed.
Despite security threats, some pilgrims walked the streets beating their head and chest; others carried the symbolic coffin of the imam. Many tried to touch the latter until the end of the procession when it reached the shrine.
According to Shia tradition, Imām Mūsā was imprisoned in Baghdad and was killed by poisoning on orders of Abbasid Caliph Hārūn Ar-Rašīd.
The government took huge security measures in the capital against possible attacks from the Islamic State group or lone wolves. For the radical Sunni group, Shias are heretical, a privileged target in recent years.
To reduce the possibility of attacks and allow people to reach the shrine, Baghdad’s main roads and intersections were closed. Vehicular traffic was banned for days.
Some pilgrims, especially from southern Iraq, reached the capital after walking for days.
An incident on Sunday morning illustrates the tensions and concerns. One elderly man was killed and 250 of Shia Muslim pilgrims were injured in a stampede when people panicked as a result of rumors that a suicide bomber was about to blow himself up.
According to witnesses, a visitor began to tear his clothes after losing his daughter in the crowd, making the pilgrims believe he was a bomber trying to detonate his explosive vest. Scores of people, including children and elders, were injured in the stampede.
"It is clear that the government was set on safe celebrations,” Card Sako said. “Government leaders want to show that they can ensure security ahead of upcoming elections” (municipal in September and parliamentary in 2018).
Also, “Politicians have learnt from 14 years of violence. There is now a greater commitment to national reconciliation. But much will depend on the outcome of the Mosul battle."