- A section of Imams had called upon the faithful not to visit the site during these perilous times and follow the government’s directive.
- Iraq has recorded over 350 cases of coronavirus and 29 deaths.
- The US is recalling its soldiers in Iraq due to Covid-19.
Hundreds of thousands of Shiite Muslims defied state orders on Saturday prohibiting them from visiting the Musa al-Kadhim shrine. The sacrarium attracts millions of pilgrims from Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan each year. Saturday was, in particular, an important commemoration date for Musa al-Kadhim, a martyr who died in prison in what is today referred to as Iraq.
Musa al-Kadhim, is according to the religion, the seventh Imam among the 12 chosen as spiritual successors of Prophet Muhammad. Security forces were able to cordon off the area and break up the procession.
A section of Imams had called upon the faithful not to visit the site during these perilous times and follow the government’s directive. Others, such as Muqtada al-Sadr, a Shiite leader, urged their followers to proceed but take precautions to avoid getting sick. He asked them to complete the trips quickly and steer clear of confrontations with the authorities.
Health Minister Jaafar Allawi had, prior to the Saturday commemoration event, asked Sadr to call off the prayers to avoid exacerbating a contamination risk. He had also requested the federal government for $5 million in funding to support the healthcare system.
Twenty-nine Iraqis have died from the virus so far. There are over 350 infection cases in the country, and the figure keeps climbing. Many more are feared to be infected, as only a fraction of suspected cases have been tested.
Iraq’s healthcare system is a mess. It is experiencing a shortage of testing kits, infrastructure, and medical personnel. Health scientists predict that the pilgrimage that occurred on Saturday will lead to a new influx of Covid-19 cases, further straining resources.
Iraq is currently in a tough economic situation. The country relies heavily on oil exports. It is the second-biggest oil producer in the OPEC group, and the commodity covers over 90 percent of its budget. The Russia-Saudi Arabia oil-production war has, however, led to a steep decline in revenues, triggering a drastic change in budgetary priories.
A Slew of Measures to Curb Covid-19 Spread
Iraq has already prohibited international flights and ordered the closure of all learning institutions to slow down the spread of Covid-19. It has also shut down its 1,500 kilometer border with Iran. The latter is reeling from US sanctions and an escalation of new infection cases. Troops have been deployed to enforce the decision.
The coronavirus epidemic seems to be transforming war dynamics in the region. Over 5,000 US soldiers had been stationed in Iraq before the outbreak to support the fight against the Islamic State. The American government now wants many of them back home due to the spread of the epidemic.
According to a statement published by the State Department, adjustments are unavoidable in the face of the new scourge. “In the meantime, the unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic to the Iraqi and Syrian people, and to our mission, led to temporary adjustments to protect the force during this period, in full coordination with Iraqi authorities.”