Iran pushes major pilgrimage to Iraq to show influence

The Iranian government is promising benefits including loans and free internet access to those who take part in the Arbaeen pilgrimage to Karbala, Iraq, later this month.

Government spokesman Ali Bahadori-Jahromi said on Tuesday that during the last cabinet meeting, President Ebrahim Raisi ordered all government organizations to facilitate the annual pilgrimage to Karbala as much as possible, where the main annual ceremonial events.

According to Bahadori-Jahromi, the government has improved the country’s infrastructure to facilitate pilgrimage to the religious city of Karbala, including ten different airports for flights to Iraq as well as six dedicated border checkpoints and the rail network. The first railway line from Tehran to Karbala has now been launched, he added.

The Civil Aviation Organization said so but they prepared 1,000 special flights to Iraq for the ceremonies.

Iran will likely end up spending hundreds of millions of dollars to sponsor a major pilgrimage because, both domestically and regionally, the clerical regime needs to show that its ideology is influential.

In 2019, The New York Times quoted influential Iranian media boss Hossein Sulaimani said, “Arbaeen is a show of power for Iran and a showcase of unity among the region’s Shia.”

The government will also station a hot air balloon in the Iraqi border area to provide free mobile internet access as well as free Wi-Fi to pilgrims and will also provide loans of 50 million rials (about $160) to heads of families going on family pilgrimage. and 30 million ($100) to individual pilgrims, he said, adding that the loan can be secured through an online application and there will be no need for collateral if the applicant has an account. cash grant.

Arbaeen pilgrims walking in Kerbala in Iraq

About 5 million Iranian pilgrims are expected to visit Iraq during the Arbaeen ceremonies which fall on September 18 this year. If so many end up going, the loan alone could cost the government more than $500 million in an estimated 50% budget shortfall.

Iranian authorities are deploying all religious entities and media to encourage pilgrimage to Karbala. Government organizations and state-affiliated charities as well as municipalities and city councils often allocate considerable budgets to organize the Arbaeen Walk. Some officials and clerics say the Arbaeen gathering is one of demonstrations of Shiite “soft power”.

Many government organizations, municipalities and city councils have separately allocated special budgets for Arbaeen ceremonies in Iraq. The city council of Mashhad, for example, has approved a budget of 150 billion rials ($5 million) for services in the Iraqi holy city of Najaf and will send 525 municipal cleaners and 354 bus drivers there.

“The Arbaeen was a popular religious occasion…but the Islamic Republic made it a state ceremony. organizing state religious events and using public funds for this purpose. It means the government is putting their hands in people’s pockets without asking permission,” Iran International analyst Reza Veisi tweeted monday.

The Arbaeen ceremony which marks the end of the 40-day mourning period following Ashura — the religious ritual to commemorate the third Shia Muslim Imam, Hussain ibn Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, who was killed in 680 AD .the largest annual gathering.

Millions of Shia Muslims gather every year to mark Arbaeen in Karbala, Iraq, where the Imam is buried. Many travel long distances, even hundreds of kilometers, to the Imam’s shrine.

There is no reliable method to count the number of visitors to Iraqi Shia holy sites during Arbaeen. In 2019, before the pandemic, around 15 million people from various countries attended the ceremonies.

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