The 40th day mourning ceremonies after the commemoration of the martyrdom of Imam Husayn (the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad) in 680 CE was marred by bombings in both Iraq and Pakistan. This violence on the terrain of sacred space and sacred time marked a regional low-intensity war between Shiite revivalists and Sunni vigilante extremists. In Iraq, the Shiites came to power in the wake of the US overthrow of the secular, Arab nationalist (and Sunni-tinged) regime of Saddam Hussein, and are being resisted by radical Sunni Arabs, whether religious or secular. In Pakistan, the Taliban in the northwest Pashtun areas are hyper-Sunni and have often attacked Shiites. The current president, Asaf Ali Zardari, is a nominal Shiite, and many Shiites support the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). It is the center-left PPP that has authorized massive military operations against the ultra-Sunni Taliban in the Swat Valley and South Waziristan.
In Iraq, the Sunni radicals attacked pilgrims pouring into the holy city of Karbala south of Baghdad, the site of Imam Husayn’s tomb. A car bomb blew up among a throng of pilgrims, and than they were subjected to a further mortar attack. Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that as many as 41 persons were killed and about 150 wounded in the attacks, though exact statistics were hard to come by in the chaos. The atrocity came after a bomb killed 22 pilgrims on Tuesday.
According to al-Zaman, Shiite authorities claimed that “10 million” pilgrims had packed into the shrine city and environs over the past 5 days, 100,000 of them “Arabs and foreigners.” Personally, I don’t find an estimate of more than a million pilgrims for Arba’in (the 40th-day mourning ceremonies) plausible. During the official pilgrimage to Mecca, about 2 million persons come from all over the world. Moreover, Shiism is a minority branch of Islam, encompassing about 10%. And the 40th-day observations are not as central as Ashura, the day of Imam Husayn’s martyrdom.
In any case, Shiites in Karbala seemed more resigned than revengeful, according the anonymous NYT reporter in Karbala.
In the major southern port of Karachi in Pakistan, guerrillas detonated a roadside bomb as a busfull of pilgrims went by, as well as attacking a hospital, killing 22. The guerrillas followed the wounded pilgrims to the hospital and attacked them again there. Karachi has been filled with sectarian tensions since early January.
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