Today is the Islamic holiday called Ashura, named after the Arabic number ten, ashr, because it is the tenth day of the new year. If you’d like some background on the holiday, please see my writeups here and here. Ashura is a predominantly Shiʿi holiday; the day is observed by Sunnis for other reasons, but for Shiʿa it commemorates the martyrdom of Imam Husayn, the son of Ali, at Karbala, the event that really established Shiʿism as a separate branch of Islam.
Because of its overtly sectarian nature, the holiday is also frequently accompanied by sectarian violence, usually attacks by Sunni radicals on Shiʿi worshipers and pilgrims. This violence is most prominent in Iraq, where Karbala is located and sectarian tension is relatively high anyway. There has been some Ashura-related violence in Iraq every year since 2004, the first time the holiday was openly celebrated in years (Saddam Hussein had tried to suppress the holiday as part of his overall program to suppress Iraq’s Shiʿa majority). Unfortunately, this year’s Ashura has been no exception:
A wave of attacks against Shiite Muslims in Iraq killed at least 47 people and wounded dozens on Thursday, security officials said, as they were marking the holy day of Ashura, which commemorates the killing of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, 1,300 years ago.
In the worst violence, 35 people were killed and 75 wounded in Diyala Province, northeast of Baghdad, when a suicide bomber blew himself up at an arena where a crowd had gathered to watch a play about the death of Imam Hussein. Women, children and actors in the play were among the dead.
Incidentally, according to IraqBodyCount.org, 280 Iraqi civilians have been killed in violent attacks so far this month (not including today’s attacks), and over 7500 are dead so far this year, making it the bloodiest year in Iraq since 2008. I stopped doing those daily Iraq casualty updates a while back because I ran out of things to say about such unrelenting violence, but we ought to keep track of what’s happening there.