Third Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division public affairs spokesman Pfc. Erik Anderson recently wrote about the Muslim holiday of Arba'een, which drew an estimated 14 million pilgrims to the city of Karbala, Iraq on Feb. 5.
The story focuses on Iraqi Security Forces and their hard work in planning and executing a security plan for the pilgrimage almost without American input. Here it is:
"A religion rejoices"
FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq – An estimated 14 million pilgrims flocked to the city of Karbala, Iraq, in celebration of the Muslim holiday Arba’een Feb. 5; marking the seventh year of the gathering since U.S. led forces removed Saddam Hussien from power.
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Ten years ago, the pilgrimage was hardly attended, due to a ban on the Shi’a holiday by Hussien’s regime, said Col. A’aed Saeer Rageeb, commander of Iraqi Police operations in Babil province. According to Rageeb, the pilgrimage has grown in attendance every year since that time.
“During Saddam’s rule, Muslims traveled by country road and feared capture by police,” Rageeb continued. “Even cooking food and giving it to the poor (an Arba’een tradition) was not allowed.”
With the continued draw-down of U.S. Forces, Iraqi Security Forces planned and executed the security measures needed to provide safety for the people making the voyage to Karbala said Cpt. Andrew Hubbard, commander, Company D, 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division.
“The Karbala Province security plan for the Arba’een pilgrimage was entirely planned by the Karbala Operations Center, and was a joint effort between the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police,” he said.
Hubbard said his company primary role in the operation was as a command and control enabler for the 33rd Iraqi Army Brigade.
“The Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police have been and will continue to be in the lead for both planning and executing operations in Karbala Province, but they do appreciate the help that we occasionally provide in the form of bomb dogs, unmanned aerial vehicles, and additional specialized training,” said Hubbard.
Prior to the religious holiday, Dealer Company supported their ISF counterparts by assisting in searches for weapons caches and other threats to public safety. During the celebration, Iraqi forces utilized U.S. UAV assets to search the area for possible threats.
Although Dealer Company had additional medical assets and a special explosives team on standby at Patrol Base Hussiniyah during the celebration, in the event of a mass-casualty situation or a bomb that the ISF could not diffuse by themselves, neither asset was required.
During Arba’een, many pilgrims crawl through the streets of Karbala in a show of humility, while others fall on their hands and knees as they approach the shrine of Husayn bin Ali, the grandson of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad.
The celebration of Arba’een reminds the faithful of the core message behind Husayn's martyrdom: establishing justice and fighting injustice, no matter what its incarnation.