March 7, 2007

Meeting in Baghdad - why on arba'in?

On March 10, representatives of the United States will meet in Baghdad with representatives of numerous other countries in an attempt to resolve the violence in Iraq. The selection of Mach 10 is surprising since it is the observance of a major Shi'a holy day.

This year, March 10 is arba'in (the Arabic word for 40) which ends the traditional 40-day period of mourning over the death of Imam Husayn bin 'Ali (grandson of Muhammad) in the 7th Century. The death of Husayn was celebrated on 'ashurah (literally "the 10th," referring to 10th day of the Islamic month of Muharram), which this year was January 28. Thousands of pilgrims make their way by vehicle and foot on the roads to the city of Karbala', about 50 miles south of Baghdad and the site of the imam’s shrine.

This year, as in the past years since the observance was allowed again after the removal of the Saddam Husayn, the pilgrimage has been the focus of attacks by Sunni extremists. This year, the goal of the attacks are to goad the Shi'a militias into re-igniting the civil war- since the coalition surge in Baghdad began last month, Shi'a militias have withdrawn from the battle to allow coalition forces to focus on the Sunni extremists, both Iraqi/Ba'thi and Al-Qai'dah in Iraq.

Why hold an important meeting on a Shi'a holy day, especially since the Iraqi government is dominated by Shi'a officials, and they hope to have Iran, another Shi'a country, participate?

It is a mystery to me.