With more pilgrims expected to visit the shrine city of Karbala on Sunday, Ashura rituals in Iraq this year have had an unprecedented political taste added to them, withShiittes chanting phrases condemning modern politicians.
Shiite Muslims marching during Ashura rituals in the Iraqi shrine city of Karbala on Saturday mixed mourning the death of Imam Hussein over 1,300 years ago with politics, making it the first time Ashura pilgrims incorporate their daily sociopolitical sufferings to religious chants.
The numbers of pilgrims are expected to reach three million on Sunday, Karbala provincial governor told AFP.
Hundreds of black-clad Shiites walked toward the mausoleum of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed who was killed in 680 AD by the armies of the caliph Yazid, ritually beating their chests as a sign of mourning for the slain imam.
But they also chanted about the current politics of Iraq, an unusual occurrence in commemorations that mainly focus on the past.
In one chant, the marchers lamented that Iraq's prime minister, parliament speaker and president are all "chasing after positions, and the people's share is only troubles," concluding: "O Hussein, we are with you until death, until death with you."
In another, they said that "the effect of financial corruption is the same as terrorism," and that "our leaders are corrupt from the top."
"You took everything, and you want to take my vote; I won't let you, even on my death," they shouted.
Iraq has vast oil wealth, but basic services such as clean water and consistent electricity are still lacking, and corruption is rampant.
And while security has improved significantly, bombings and shootings remain a constant threat.
Staff Lieutenant General Othman al-Ghanimi told AFP that 30,000 security forces personnel were deployed at the northern, southern and eastern entrances of Karbala to protect the pilgrims.
Mass-casualty attacks on pilgrims that have blighted Ashura commemorations in the past have been absent so far this year.
Tradition holds that Hussein was decapitated and his body mutilated in a formative event in Shiite Islam.
Millions of people flood Karbala for the peak of the Ashura rituals, which comes on Sunday this year.
Karbala provincial governor Amal al-Din al-Har told AFP that there were about two million pilgrims currently in the city, among them 200,000 from abroad.