About 21 million Shia pilgrims from around the world gathered in the Iraqi city of Karbala on Saturday for the Arbaeen commemoration, which marks the end of the 40-day mourning period for the seventh-century killing of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad.
The annual event sees men and women from across Iraq and beyond travel to Karbala, where Imam Hussein and his brother Abbas are buried, for one of the world’s largest religious gatherings.
After two years marked by the COVID-19 pandemic and border restrictions, 21.2 million pilgrims flocked to the city in central Iraq this week, said the organisation that manages Abbas’s mausoleum.
Among them are five million foreigners, including a record of more than three million from neighbouring Iran, according to authorities in the two countries.
The pilgrims waved black flags and banners bearing the image of Hussein.
This year, the commemorations are being held against the backdrop of a political crisis in Iraq.
Clashes between the two main Shia factions – the pro-Iran Coordination Framework and a bloc loyal to influential leader Muqtada al-Sadr – have prevented the establishment of a coalition government.
The crisis escalated into violence in late August, when al-Sadr supporters clashed with the army and forces from the Hashd al-Shaabi, former paramilitaries integrated into the regular military.
More than 30 al-Sadr followers were killed.