The Iranian regime has launched widespread propaganda to take part in an upcoming major religious event in Iraq, known as Arbaeen*, and is attempting to decrease visa restrictions for Iranian pilgrims and claim its own followers will be taking part in millions. However, due to the limitations imposed by the Iraqi government Tehran will not be permitted to send high numbers of pilgrims to Iraq. The number of these pilgrims are very important for Tehran as it intends to portray this image to its domestic correspondents in Iraq and also the United States that it continues to control the initiative in Iraq, both militarily and socially. The numbers provided by the Iranian regime regarding these pilgrims are 1 to 1.5 million, and this year it is pursuing different objectives alongside the Arbaeen ceremony in Iraq.
1. The Iranian regime is taking different measures including cancelling the need for visas, passing through border crossings without any tolls for light and heavy vehicles, allocating more border crossings for pilgrims to pass into Iraq and using all government assets to provide services. These measures are all aimed at increasing the Iranian pilgrims’ presence in Iraq and take advantage of the propaganda profits in this regard.
2. This year, similar to last year, Tehran was attempting to cancel any visa regulations for pilgrims to more freely be able to transfer the pilgrims to Iraq. To this end, both the Iranian regime’s Interior Ministry and its ambassador in Baghdad were seeking to convince the Iraqi government to cancel the need for visas. However, the Iraqi government and officials in the Foreign and Interior ministry opposed any measures aimed at cancelling these visas.
3. To coordinate measures inside Iran and Iraq, Tehran has formed headquarters inside Iraq for the Arbaeen ceremonies, in charge of providing and controlling paths for the pilgrims, and establishing security from their starting point to their final destination in Iraq. The Quds Force was responsible for providing these necessities and this entity has allocated various militant groups and Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) for this purpose. The regime’s ambassador in Baghdad was in charge of this office in Iraq.
4. The Iranian regime’s Interior Ministry, acting as the organ in charge of sending Iranian pilgrims to Iraq for the Arbaeen ceremony, has suggested to the Iraqi government to increase the visa charges to $38. The extra $8 will be collected by the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and transferred to the militia groups in Syria fighting for Bashar Assad. However, the Iraqi government refused this suggestion.
5. The Quds Force, in coordination with Naghadi, head of the regime’s paramilitary Bassij forces, has sent a large number of Bassij members to Iraq under the cover of municipality personnel from various Iranian cities. A number of these individuals are being used as “Khadem al-Hussein” (Servants of Imam Hussein, a historically renowned Muslim Shiite figure) in the city of Karbala. However, most of these forces have along with Iraqi militias established offices in the city of Karbala and Najaf focusing on recruiting volunteers willing to Syria.
6. One of the objectives sought by the Iranian regime in this year’s Arbaeen ceremony is to recruit more forces to be dispatched to Syria, and collecting financial support for this cause.
7. To this day a number of Quds Force-affiliated militia groups, have established recruiting centers. The Quds Force pays huge salaries in their effort to recruit more troops for Syria. Those who volunteer are told they will receive 800,000 dinars if they remain in Iraq and fight alongside militia groups. If they are willing to go to Syria and fight there they will receive 1.3 million dinars as their initial payment.
8. Considering the fact that millions are expected to gather for the Arbaeen ceremonies in the cities of Karbala and Najaf in Iraq, the Iranian regime will be taking advantage of the large crowd and collect donations under the pretext of supporting “fighters protecting the sacred shrines” in Iraq and supporting “fighters protecting the Zeinab sanctuary” in Syria (the burial site of another prominent historical Shiite figure). To this end the Iranian regime has been printing 5,000 dinar to 5 million bills, calling on people to provide financial aid to support militias and PMF forces in battle.
9. The Iranian regime is also pursuing propaganda goals by dispatching a number of its senior figures to take part in the Arbaeen ceremonies in Iraq. Considering the Iranian regime’s economic and military situation in the region, especially Syria, Tehran is planning to take full advantage of this year’s Arbaeen ceremony.
* Arbaeen is a religious ceremony for Shiite Muslims marking the 40th day after the anniversary of the death of Imam Hossein, the grandson of Prophet Mohammad, in the city of Karbala. Each year Shiites in Iraq and other countries walk on foot to Karbala for these ceremonies. In recent years the Iranian regime’s has exaggerated heavily on the number of Iranians taking part in this ceremony, attempting to utilize this event as a show of its power in the face of Sunni states in the region.