SULAIMANI (ESTA) — Iraqi protesters clashed with security forces outside a holy Shia Muslim shrine in the southern city of Karbala on Tuesday causing injuries to several people, Reuters reported.
The protesters were commemorating demonstrators killed during months of anti-government unrest last year in which more than 500 Iraqis died, most of them gunned down by security forces and militias.
Tuesday’s clashes took place near the Imam Hussein shrine during the annual Arbaeen pilgrimage to commemorate the death of the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson.
The protesters had marched towards the shrine, Reuters cited witnesses as saying. Some became angry because they were not allowed into the shrine concourse, a Reuters reporter said. Security forces then charged the protesters with batons, causing skirmishes and pushing them back.
A Karbala security official said the protesters had arrived as part of a pilgrimage group, but before the time allotted for them to tour the shrine. Part of the group grew violent and police acted to eject them from the area, the official said.
The Arbaeen pilgrimage is the world’s largest public annual gathering and normally attractions millions of Muslims from Iraq and abroad.
This year there have been fewer pilgrims because Iraq has mostly closed its borders to foreign pilgrims over fears of a bigger spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Iraq is already recording up to 5,000 new cases a day.