You are viewing the content for Friday 10 February 2006

Heavy security as Shi’ites celebrate Ashoura in ritual bloodletting

By Paul Grant, Karbala
TENS of thousands of Iraqis marched and beat themselves yesterday in blood-soaked processions through this holy city and other Shi’ite centres around the country to mourn the seventh century death of their revered martyr, Imam Hussein.

Amid tight security and in a fierce sand storm, hundreds of thousands of people descended on Karbala, where Hussein is believed buried, for ceremonies marking Ashoura, the 10th day of Muharram in the Islamic lunar calendar.

More than 8,000 security officers and extra Shi’ite militiamen frisked pilgrims and blocked vehicles from the city in the hope of preventing Sunni Arab suicide bombers from striking the event, as they have done during the previous two years, killing more than 230 people.

The United States military has been using unmanned, unarmed aerial drones to provide an overhead view of processions.

In Karbala, about 20,000 men wearing white shrouds and waving swords began marching around 2am between the gold-domed Imam Hussein shrine and another dedicated to his brother, Abbas, less than a mile away. Thousands of onlookers lined the road.

Shi’ite authorities in Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad, estimated a crowd of more than a million.

Following dawn prayers, about 8,000 people, dressed in black as a sign of mourning and including children as young as age 8, marched between the two shrines to the deep beat of bass drums. Some slapped chains across their backs until their clothes were soaked with blood, while others beat their heads with the flat side of long swords and knives until blood ran freely in a ritual of grief that was banned under ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.

Some slice their foreheads with the edge of a sword in a practice known as "al-Tatbeer"(meaning "sword" in Arabic) and beat themselves while chanting "Haider, Haider," a name by which Hussein is also known.

"Although it is a sad day, I am very happy because I took part in these head-beating processions," said 10-year-old Haider Abbas Salim, whose face was covered in blood. "Imam Hussein’s martyrdom teaches us manhood and that we shouldn’t fear anything."

Many Iraqis cooked throughout the night: pilgrims attending the ceremonies are given meals of rice and thick soup laden with meat and chick peas.

Hussein, the grandson of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, was massacred along with about 70 followers by an army of Umayyads, their rivals for leadership of the Muslim community, during a 680 AD battle in Karbala. Hussein’s death cemented the split in Islam between Shi’ites and Sunni Muslims.

The ceremonies come amid heightened sectarian tensions in Iraq between Shi’ites and Sunni Arabs and a campaign of reprisal kidnappings and killings.

The US is backing efforts to form a new unity government comprising Iraq’s Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds.

 

Heavy security as Shi’ites celebrate Ashoura in ritual bloodletting

By Paul Grant, Karbala
TENS of thousands of Iraqis marched and beat themselves yesterday in blood-soaked processions through this holy city and other Shi’ite centres around the country to mourn the seventh century death of their revered martyr, Imam Hussein.

Amid tight security and in a fierce sand storm, hundreds of thousands of people descended on Karbala, where Hussein is believed buried, for ceremonies marking Ashoura, the 10th day of Muharram in the Islamic lunar calendar.

More than 8,000 security officers and extra Shi’ite militiamen frisked pilgrims and blocked vehicles from the city in the hope of preventing Sunni Arab suicide bombers from striking the event, as they have done during the previous two years, killing more than 230 people.

The United States military has been using unmanned, unarmed aerial drones to provide an overhead view of processions.

In Karbala, about 20,000 men wearing white shrouds and waving swords began marching around 2am between the gold-domed Imam Hussein shrine and another dedicated to his brother, Abbas, less than a mile away. Thousands of onlookers lined the road.

Shi’ite authorities in Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad, estimated a crowd of more than a million.

Following dawn prayers, about 8,000 people, dressed in black as a sign of mourning and including children as young as age 8, marched between the two shrines to the deep beat of bass drums. Some slapped chains across their backs until their clothes were soaked with blood, while others beat their heads with the flat side of long swords and knives until blood ran freely in a ritual of grief that was banned under ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.

Some slice their foreheads with the edge of a sword in a practice known as "al-Tatbeer"(meaning "sword" in Arabic) and beat themselves while chanting "Haider, Haider," a name by which Hussein is also known.

"Although it is a sad day, I am very happy because I took part in these head-beating processions," said 10-year-old Haider Abbas Salim, whose face was covered in blood. "Imam Hussein’s martyrdom teaches us manhood and that we shouldn’t fear anything."

Many Iraqis cooked throughout the night: pilgrims attending the ceremonies are given meals of rice and thick soup laden with meat and chick peas.

Hussein, the grandson of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, was massacred along with about 70 followers by an army of Umayyads, their rivals for leadership of the Muslim community, during a 680 AD battle in Karbala. Hussein’s death cemented the split in Islam between Shi’ites and Sunni Muslims.

The ceremonies come amid heightened sectarian tensions in Iraq between Shi’ites and Sunni Arabs and a campaign of reprisal kidnappings and killings.

The US is backing efforts to form a new unity government comprising Iraq’s Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds.