Millions of Shi'a pilgrims are expected to head to Karbala over the coming days for the Arba'in commemorations that will culminate take place between Friday, October 19, and Saturday, October 20. Around 20 million pilgrims are expected to participate to the commemorations, including 3 million Iranian nationals. The main event will take place at the Imam Husayn Shrine.
Associated gatherings are likely in other Shi'a sites across the country, notably at the Imam Kadhim Shrine in Kadhimiyah, the al-Askari Shrine in Samarra, and the Imam Ali Mosque in Zubayr, which are expected to receive the largest number of pilgrims after Karbala.
A heightened security presence is expected in Karbala ahead of, during, and after the commemorations, as well as in other cities throughout Iraq, particularly in the vicinity of Sh'ia mosques. Iranian authorities have announced the deployment of Iranian security forces in Karbala and nearby provinces. Disruptions to movement including traffic congestion and road closures are expected throughout Iraq as pilgrims head to Karbala. Increased waiting times are likely at airports across the country.
Furthermore, prominent Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has called for a million-man march against the Iraqi government during the commemorations in Karbala. If the protest goes ahead as planned, further disruptions and heightened security measures are to be expected.
Arba'in is a significant annual Shia religious observance that occurs 40 days after the start of the Holy Month of Muharram (Ashura begins on the 10th day of Muharram) to commemorate the death of Hussain Ali, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, in the battle of Karbala in 680 AD.
Sunni-extremist insurgents retain higher intent to carry out high-profile attacks during this period. On October 30, 2018, a roadside IED killed three Shi'a Muslim pilgrims as they walked to a holy site near the northeastern city of Khanaqin, Diyala province, near the Iranian border.
Individuals in Karbala and across 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.
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