Tens Of Thousands Of Iraqi Shiites

*Tens of thousands of Iraqi Shiites continue to make their way to Karbala, the site of the shrine of Imam Husayn, to commemorate the 40th day after his martyrdom (which took place in 681). In Muslim societies it is common to mourn someone at his funeral and then to hold another ceremony 40 days later. Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, has called on Shiites to turn Tuesday’s commemoration into a political demonstration against the presence of US troops in Iraq. It remains to be seen whether many Iraqis will pay any attention to this demand, which strikes me as sacriligious. For Shiites, the martyrdom of Husayn is attended with some of the same sentiments as the passion of Christ on Good Friday in Christianity. A million or two pilgrims are expected, which could be explosive in a small town like Karbala. Tempers may run high, and after all people just lived through a brutalizing war. Will there be trouble?

*Ash-Sharq al-Awsat says that Iran’s UN ambassador has been involved in whirlwind negotiations with the US, flying between New York and Tehran several times, seeking to improve relations. The Iranian regime fears it is next on the Bush hit list and wants to forestall an attack.

*It also has an eyewitness report from Sadr City, the 2- or 3-million strong Shiite neighborhood of Baghdad. The people she talked to there say they are followers of Muqtada al-Sadr and are entirely willing to wage a jihad against the US if the order came from Najaf. They blamed the US for having installed Saddam Hussein in power and kept him there. Although the story is more complex than that, recent revelations by journalists point in that direction.