Over the coming month, Muslims in Iraq will celebrate the Muharram period, culminating with the commemoration of Ashura from Tuesday, September 18, through Friday, September 21. Large gatherings are expected country-wide, notably in the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala. Disruptions affecting street traffic and other means of transportation are expected.
Ashura is the culmination of a mourning period, which occurs during the Muharram period representing the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Shi'a and Sunni Muslims both commemorate the death of the Prophet Mohammad's grandson, Imam Hussein. Thousands of people gather in the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala for this commemoration. Iraq has recently witnessed violent clashes in the southern city of Basra over inadequate provision of government services, as well as attacks in Baghdad's Green Zone. The US issued a security alert for the Muharram period, restricting its mission's movements in Baghdad and Basra.
Individuals in Iraq are advised to closely monitor the situation, avoid all protests and large public gatherings as a precaution, and adhere to all instructions issued by the local authorities. The security environment in Iraq remains complex. Although travel is possible in some areas with proper security protocols in place, other areas should be considered strictly off-limits. Professional security advice and support should be sought prior to all travel.