Thousands of black-clad pilgrims walked the streets of Baghdad on Wednesday as part of a weeklong procession to a revered shrine, eluding security forces’ barbed wire and increasing fears of a new wave of coronavirus following the papal visit.
During the annual pilgrimage, which is expected to hit its peak number of worshippers on Wednesday to commemorate the death of Imam al-Kadhim, a revered figure in Shiite Islam, crowds of men and women defied the tight security measures put in place by Iraqi authorities to contain the spread of the virus.
Separately, a grenade was thrown near Baghdad’s Imam Bridge on Monday, killing one woman and injuring 11 pilgrims. No one took responsibility right away. The Tigris River bridge links the predominantly Sunni Adhamiya area with Kadhimiya, which is predominantly Shiite.
Iraq is experiencing a second wave of the coronavirus, sparked primarily by a more infectious strain discovered in the United Kingdom. For the remainder of the week, the nation has placed a complete lockout from Friday to Sunday, as well as a partial curfew starting at 8 p.m. and ending at 5 a.m. According to the law, non-essential enterprises, as well as schools and mosques, should be closed during this period.
Despite these restrictions, pilgrims proceed on their way to the shrine. Every year, millions of pilgrims from all over the world flock to Baghdad to visit the gold-domed shrine that houses the imam’s final resting place.
Iraqis continue to violate safety precautions in other parts of the country, with authorities increasingly unable to implement them. Facemasks are rarely worn in central Baghdad’s outdoor tea shops, which are crowded with men smoking shisha.
Meanwhile, the number of cases is increasing, with new infections surpassing a six-month high.
According to Health Ministry statistics, at least 22 people died in Iraq on Tuesday, with 6,410 new infections reported in a 24-hour span, breaking the previous daily record of 5,055 set on September 23.
Pope Francis’ visit to Iraq, which ended on Monday, sparked controversy, with infectious disease experts questioning the wisdom of such a trip given Iraq’s rising case numbers. Crowds gathered to catch a glimpse of the pontiff across five provinces, including Baghdad, Ninevah and Irbil where a 10,000 people attended an open-air mass.