reports from the holy city of Karbala, Iraq
March 15, 2004 5:14 PM   Subscribe

After about 8.30am, we decided to try to make our way back to the shrine of Imam Al-Hussain (S) so that we could hear the Maqtal (story of his death) being read out. On our way there, as we were opposite the shrine of Al-Abbas (S) coming from the Baghdad Road, a loud explosion went off. It came from the direction of the Imam Al-Hussain (S) shrine. Suddenly the crowd of people started running and were coming towards us. We had no option but to turn back with them, or be trampled on. After about 2 minutes, another explosion went off, it seemed closer. We had stopped by now to see what was happening and after about 3 minutes, we started moving forward again. A few seconds later another bomb went off, this was the closest yet. We walked into one of the hotel lobbies, fearing anything could go off next to us. It was like an air raid, you thought bombs were being dropped. There was smoking rising above both shrines and there was a lot of shouting and screaming. People were running in all directions, desperately clinging on to each other. We stepped out to see what had happended but then another bomb went off. This was the biggest one and it shook us. Glass from the nearby buildings started raining down and we ran for cover. A lot of smoke and dust clouded over the area and we done a head count to make sure we were all together.
Shiite Account of Visitation ('pilgrimage') to Holy Shrines of Iraq is how Juan Cole titled this first person account.
posted by y2karl (7 comments total)

We made a few trips by car to Karbala before the walk and also to Najaf. It was there that I managed to meet with Sayyid Seestani.

The little avenue leading to his house off Rasool Street had guards stationed at the corner. They were armed and one had a metal scanner in his hand. Standing with them was a young scholar who answered queries about the Sayyid and his office. After much negotiation I was allowed through to go to the Sayyid's house. The avenue is very narrow, with old houses lining it so that you cannot even look up and see the sun.

A guard opened the door to the house and led me through to see Sayyid Muhammad Ridha Seestani, the Sayyid's son. I explained to him that I wanted a short audience with the Sayyid but he insisted that there were too many demands on his time and perhaps I should come back another day. I persisted and he finally relented in allowing me a 10 minute meeting.

I was seated in a small waiting area adjacent to the main room. Eventually I was beckoned in, where the Sayyid was seated on the floor. I greeted him and apologised for taking up his time, then I rolled out my list of questions.

The Sayyid was in good health, he smiled frequently and focused his attention entirely on what the speaker was saying. He never turned away when I was speaking and would not interrupt me until I finished talking. He does have a thick Iranian accent, but he does understand Iraqi slang and his replies in Arabic, whilst formal, were quite clearly said.

He understood immediately what the question was and his replies were without hesitation. He was quite astute and his replies were said in certainty. He was seated on the floor and invited me to sit next to him. His voice was soft and his face quite warm and friendly. Even though this feeling of overwhelming respect was hovering inside, his humbleness relaxed me throughout the meeting.

His house was very simple, we were served some traditional tea and offered biscuits. There were a few books piled in the corner and withstanding the electric ceiling fan, you would not be able to tell the difference between this house and one in 1904. The only sight of furniture was chairs for those in the waiting area.

I conveyed the greetings of all ShiaChatters to the Sayyid who told me he was very proud of those who did not let distance stop them from gaining Islamic knowledge. I asked him a few personal questions such as his newfound voice in politics and his keeping himself in his house, and the Sayyid replied with a smile and short answer that 'you do what is best at the time'.

posted by y2karl at 5:36 PM on March 15, 2004

a small error. Special forces and affiliates are not referred to as SOG.
but DAMN, it is hopping.
nice reportage karl.
posted by clavdivs at 6:41 PM on March 15, 2004

Here's two other Iraqis' posts about the Ashurra bombings: Salam Pax and Healing Iraq. Killing innocents is horrible, but actually killing innocents within a mosque is especially evil. I hope the joy of being able to celebrate for the first time in many years overcomes the sadness of the deaths.
posted by superchris at 7:03 PM on March 15, 2004

I just use the blanket designator of individuals that are lumped together with CIA for single missions.

Oh, BTW, here is some good hoppin' from Iran. Lots nice pictures.
posted by kablam at 7:10 PM on March 15, 2004

I hope the joy of being able to celebrate for the first time in many years overcomes the sadness of the deaths.

The bombings could not stop Ashura according to what follows A lot of smoke and dust clouded over the area and we done a head count to make sure we were all together ...

After a few minutes, I decided to go and see what had happened. My relatives were trying to hold me back but I insisted on going forward. I saw the first few people being carted away, blood covering their bodies. As I got closer, I saw police trying to carry away the injured. What was worse was that there were some bodies whom people simply covered and didn't move. These were the ones whom died instantly.

Small fires were burning and people calling out various names. A woman was hysterically looking for her child, she would inspect each of the bodies before going to the next. I tried to think how I could help, refer to my basic medical training, but when I saw the state of some of the victims, I knew I couldn't do anything. The closer I went, the worse the scene. I saw one man with his leg severed but hanging at the thigh by a tether. I saw a small child, his clothes drenched in blood lying next to what seemed to be body parts of his father. There was a head and torso attached, but no arms. The legs were missing as well.

Ambulance crews were struggling to get past the crowds, so people resorted to lifting the injured themselves or wheeling them away on carts. Photographers from the media started taking photos of the bodies, but people soon became agitated and started threatening them. It was chaos, many Iranians were screaming and crying, a bomb had gone off next to one of their groups. Bodies littered the streets, those that weren't carried away were draped with a cloth. I counted over 30 dead bodies at the scene.

Amazingly, after a short while, the processions started up again. People started coming into the shrines again and it seemed that the bombs were not going to stop the events of the day. Within half an hour, an incredible sight unfolded in front of me, ambulances carried away the dead, while mourners were marching into the shrines doing zanjeel.

I eventually left about 11.30am, convinced by my relatives to go back to Baghdad to inform our worried family and friends that we were unharmed.

posted by y2karl at 7:45 PM on March 15, 2004

very good thread, thanks everybody
posted by matteo at 6:41 AM on March 16, 2004

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