Nir Rosen has an important piece in the Asia Times on the preparations for Ashura in Iraq. Ashura, the 10th of the month of Muharram, commemorates the martyrdom of the grandson of the prophet, Husayn. It is a time of mourning, sermons, poetry, weeping and processions with self-flagellation. Hundreds of thousands of Shiites from Iraq, Iran and elsewhere in the Shiite world may be expected to converge on Karbala in a little over a month. Because emotions run high during the first ten days of Muharram, it has often been a time of Sunni-Shiite violence in places like Pakistan, though not so much in modern Iraq. If the Coalition Provisional Authority has by then come out against the election plans put forward by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, or has announced steps that most Shiites deeply dislike, it is possible that the commemoration could be politicized. It would be a time when it would be child’s play to get hundreds of thousands of Shiites out in the streets protesting American policy.
There is also a danger that the Zarqawi sort of terrorist might attempt to use violence to spark Sunni-Shiite clashes or Shiite-Coalition ones.
On the other hand, there were attempts to politicize the Arba`in or the mourning held 40 days after the death anniversary of Hussein last April, and they generally came to naught. A lot of Iraqi Shiites are happy enough just to be able to practice their religion again, and some people dislike its politicization.