Ashura commemorations hold an important place in the public life of Iraq and they have often been recently subjected to security problems, due to increased political instability.
As millions of Iraqis commemorate the Holy Month of Muharram, and the day of Ashura, in which Imam Husain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, was killed, citizens call for stronger intelligence measures to be taken in order to thwart attempts by ISIS to disrupt the commemorations.
Previously, these days were used by ISIS predecessor al-Qaeda to target Shi’a Muslims who they see as disbelievers. However, in the past few years, and especially after the defeat of ISIS in Iraq in December 2017, the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) have carried out many measures to protect citizens partaking in the Ashura events.
However, despite these measures, ISIS was able to infiltrate and detonate five IEDs in different parts of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. According to security experts, these infiltrations were possible due to the political instability that the country is currently facing.
“The instability in the political scene is reflected negatively on the security situation in the country. This has been the case since 2003. There is a direct correlation between the two issues,” said Kadhim al-Hajj, an Iraqi security expert. “As a result, when there is political instability, tension between the forces, protests and foreign intervention, we see an increase in the bombings that take place.”
As a result, citizens throughout the country have called on the ISF to increase their intelligence operations in the country to launch preemptive operations on sleeper cells attempting to target civilians.
“We need this increase, especially in areas that have religious sites and are hosting [Ashura] memorial services,” said a citizen from Baghdad.
While the Ashura pilgrimage is nearly over, the ISF must plan stronger intelligence operations for the upcoming Arba’een pilgrimage, which is estimated to take place around 20th October. During the Arba’een pilgrimage, Iraq hosts well over 10 million pilgrims from all over the world, which some citizens fear might become a target for ISIS sleeper cells attempting to spread chaos and panic.