In a Twitter message in Persian, the influential Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has urged Iranian pilgrims to abide by Iraq’s laws and regulations.
“The host must show respect toward the guest, and the guest must be respectful of the hosts habits and traditions,” Sadr said in his message addressed to Iranian pilgrims, adding that they should observe discipline when entering the country for the upcoming, million-strong Arbaeen Walk, have official permits and passports, and respect the country’s officials, security forces, and laws.
The Arbaeen ceremony which falls on September 18 this year marks the end of the 40-day mourning period following Ashura -- the religious ritual for the commemoration of the third Shia Muslim Imam, Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, in 680 AD – is the world's largest annual gathering.
Millions of Shia Muslims gather every year to mark Arbaeen in Karbala, Iraq, where the imam is buried. Many walk long distances, even hundreds of kilometres, to the shrine of the Imam.
Iranian authorities deploy all religious entities and media to encourage pilgrimage to Karbala. Government organisations and the state affiliated charities as well as municipalities and city councils often allocate considerable budgets to organize the Arbaeen Walk and offer various services, including free Wi-Fi, along the way and in Karbala. Last year Tehran City Council approved two urgent bills to allocate a budget of 60 billion rials for holding the Jim ceremonies.
Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr
Sadr pointed out in his message that Iraq is not obliged to accept more pilgrims than it can handle and urged Iraqi authorities not to entrust the security of the ceremonies to anyone other than the country’s own security forces. He was referring to armed militia groups affiliated with the Islamic Republic and others.
Sadr also urged Iraqis to show self-restraint and avoid any kind of conflict with pilgrims, cooperate with security forces in maintaining the security of pilgrims and holy sites, and avoid divisive slogans.
Relative calm was restored in Iraq after Sadr urged all his supporters to leave the streets following recent clashes between his supporters and pro-Iranian militias that killed about 30 people.
Violence erupted in Iraq on August 29 when Sadr -- who seeks to curb the influence of the Islamic Republic in Iraqi politics -- announced that he was quitting politics because his followers were not getting a fair share in the political structure of the country.
As violence intensified, Iranian media reported that all air and land borders with Iraq were closed and that the Iranian embassy in Baghdad and other diplomatic missions faced attacks by Sadrists.
Political rivalry between Sadr’s followers and Iran-aligned parties and paramilitary groups, mainly militias of the Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq group, has left Iraq without a government since the parliamentary elections of October 2021 in which Sadrists won the most seats.
Clashes between Sadr’s followers and Iranian-backed militias in the end of August in the Iraqi capital, Basra, and other major cities have left over a dozen dead.
Apparently referring to the recent violence, Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei blamed the United States for accusations that Iran meddles in the affairs of other nations in a speech Saturday and said Iran’s encouragement of other nations “to stand up against world powers’ bullying” is the main reason for tensions with the Islamic Republic.