In the days leading up to this year’s Day of Arbaeen, Iranian and Iraqi officials made many preparations for holding the ritual in the best way possible, suggesting that this Day can be an example of how the two countries are able to boost bilateral relations using their deeply rooted cultural bonds.
During the recent visit by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Iranian President Ayatollah Seyed Ebrahim Raisi was keen to underline the importance of these bonds between the Iranian and Iraqi nations.
Speaking at a meeting with al-Kadhimi, Ayatollah Raisi said the two nations have broad and deep historical, cultural and religious commonalities. “The relations between the two nations are beyond geographical level and neighborliness, and no factor can damage the inseparable bond between the two nations,” he added.
The Day of Arbaeen, which is observed by millions of Iranians and Iraqis every year, has been the biggest epitome of the strong cultural commonalities between the two nations. It has played a major role in boosting people-to-people interactions between two countries that were at war with each other for eight years.
Arbaeen has not been a new ritual. Its roots date back to centuries ago. But commemorating it at the levels seen over the past few years is absolutely a new phenomenon. During Saddam Hossein’s rule, the Iraqi Shiites were banned from commemorating Arbaeen in large numbers. They were not able to stage the Great Walk of Arbaeen. But after the overthrow of Saddam, the number of Iraqis observing Arbaeen grew steadily. In the years before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the number of Arabeen pilgrims reached millions, with the large participation of Iranians.
The Day of Arbaeen rolls around 40 days after the Day of Ashura, which marks the martyrdom anniversary of Imam Hussein (AS), the grandson of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) who was martyred in the Battle of Karbala on October 10, 680 (Muharram 10, 61 AH), nearly 14 centuries ago.
Over the past decade, the Iranian and Iraqi people have begun participating in what came to be known as the Great Walk of Arbaeen, a procession during which millions of Iranians and Iraqis travel on foot to the shrine city of Karbala, south of Iraq.
During their stint in Iraq, the Arbaeen pilgrims, including the Iranians, are usually accommodated in the personal houses of ordinary Iraqis, which has served as an occasion for the two peoples to know each other more and break away from the past with all its emotional baggage.
But over the past years, some difficulties have stood in the way of this cultural interconnection. The presence of American troops in Iraq and its attendant implications regarding the provocation of terrorist groups such as Daesh have created insecurity along the roads trodden by the Arbaeen pilgrims in Iraq. This may be the reason why the Iraqi parliament has passed a lave obligating the Iraqi government to accelerate the withdrawal of the U.S. troops from Iraq.
During al-Kadhimi’s recent visit, Ayatollah Raisi told the Iraqi prime minister that the presence of American troops in Iraq is detrimental to security of the country.
“The presence of foreign forces, especially Americans, in any of the countries in the region is detrimental to security and stability in the region and the implementation of the Iraqi parliament’s law on expelling American forces from the country can be useful in this regard,” the Iranian president noted.
This year’s Arbaeen rolls around at a time when many Iranian and Iraqi officials are doubling down on their efforts to get the American troop to leave Iraq as soon as possible.
U.S. President Joe Biden said in late July that U.S. forces will end their combat mission in Iraq by the end of this year. There are currently 2,500 U.S. troops stationed in Iraq. the Arab press has reported that Washington intends to transfer the Ain al-Assad base from Anbar to Jordan, and the Harir base from Erbil to Kuwait, in preparation for withdrawing its forces from Iraq at the end of this year.
But Biden had said that a group of American troops will stay in Iraq to “train and advise” the Iraqi military, a move that has been widely seen as a way to prolong the U.S. military presence in Iraq, though under different pretexts.