The occasion of Arbaeen marks the forty-day anniversary of the martyrdom of Hussain, son of Ali, and grandson of the Prophet Mohammad on the day of Ashura. Every year, millions of Shia and non-Shia from all over the world travel to the holy city of Karbala, Iraq to the shrine of Hussain to renew their vows against the violations of human rights and pledge support for world peace. Following the traditions of Iraqi natives, pilgrims travel on foot. Many walking as little as 80 km from the holy city of Najaf, Iraq. Others travel more than 500 km from cities such as Basra, Iraq.
With over 30 million travelers, the Arbaeen pilgrimage stands as the third-largest peaceful human gathering.
On September 24, 2019, the Department of State held an Arbaeen Briefing for pilgrims who travel to Iraq on this occasion. Among the speakers of the briefing were administrators and advisors of the Office of International Religious Freedom, Office of International Religious Freedom, American Citizen Services, US Embassy in Iraq, Transportation Security Administration, and the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties of the Department of Homeland Security.
Within the session, speakers discussed travel advisory for American citizens to the nation of Iraq. More importantly, the briefing made clear the immense need for the involvement of civil organizations in creating tools that can establish security for those who travel to Iraq for Arbaeen.
With the aims of establishing the safety of Shia pilgrims in Iraq, Shia Rights Watch has initiated multitier projects. In addition to launching inter-organizational and grassroots programs within Iraq, Shia Rights Watch presents the following tips for Arbaeen congregates:
The first defense against danger is awareness. Recognize risk factors that put you at an increased risk of attack.
- Recent trends of violence in Iraq show increased risk for solo travelers, or travelers who are traveling in vacant areas. Shia Rights Watch encourages pilgrims to travel within crowds and avoid remote destinations.
- Despite increases in security measures, Southern Iraq is home to fewer terror attacks than Northern cities, namely Baghdad. Pilgrims traveling to and from the Baghdad International Airport (BGW) are encouraged to be on high alert and to avoid unverified transportation and aid individuals.
Regardless of risk, precautionary measures are always a good idea. Minimize the dangers of possible targeting by being prepared.
- Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP, https://step.state.gov/step/) to receive security messages and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.
- If you are not a resident of the United States, contact your local authorities for parallel services. If such a service is not provided to you, inquire about the creation of protective services from your authorities.
- Make copies of your documents and keep one on your persons at all times.
- Commit to memory emergency contact information. Shia Rights Watch encourages pilgrims to memorize and keep on their person contact information of the United States Embassy, the contact information of a trusted individual within Iraq and the contact information of a family or friend within your hometown.
- Share your itinerary with a trusted friend or family and update loved ones and co-travelers of your whereabouts.
- If you are traveling solo, establish connections with other solo travelers. Share contact information and stay up-to-date on each other’s travel itinerary.
Shia Rights Watch reinforces compliance with the security requirement and travel advisories of national governments. Travelers are encouraged to contact the Department of State or their national embassies to gain more information on ways to increase safety in their Arbaeen pilgrimage.
In the event difficulties are encountered while participating in the pilgrimage, pilgrims are advised to contact their home country’s embassy and relevant authorities first, but also remember that trusted SRW are on-call to give additional advocacy support.
In the event of an emergency, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad can be contacted here by travelers or their loved ones.