I was going alone because doing ziyarat (pilgrimage) is a very personal experience. I have always been inspired by the
and its Muslim-related heritage. land of Iraq
We boarded the 160-seater Jupiter Airlines to Basra, which was chartered especially for the group. I began the trip with a short prayer and as the journey progressed everyone became friendly. One shared with me how she came to take this pilgrimage. Another revealed whom she was praying for. Some reminisced about past pilgrimages while I wondered what this expedition had in store for me. Spending two weeks with five million Muslims from far flung countries converging in war-torn Iraq definitely appealed to me as a journalist!
airport definitely takes on an appearance of a civilian airport. Built in 1989, on the lines of the Basra airport, its terminal is clad in wall-to-wall marble. During the 2003 invasion, the bombing damaged only the air control tower while the rest of the airport survived. Though the region is said to be under Iraqi control, British military personnel were seen moving around the airport in tandem. Baghdad
After a fairly long wait, my turn came to get the immigration stamp. “Welcome to
“Before the war and sanctions,
The long, cold road north from
to Najaf is a journey through the poverty of Basra . The Kurds whose plight has captured the attention of the world has left the Iraqi Shias completely neglected, despite making up 60 per cent of the country’s population and a ruling coalition government comprising Shias. Iraq
This frontline town in southern
A woman British officer got into the bus and examined our passports. An SA80 was slung across her shoulder. Out of the blue, I heard an excited “Hi.” Looking up, surprised I noticed it was not directed at me, but my neighbour who is a British national!
But it is not war alone that has ravaged
There is a network of bridges across the water and canals along the Shatt Al-Arab waterway — the convergence of the
The road stretches ahead of me in a long straight line with barren land on either side. The only sign of life is the odd Bedouin herding his sheep.
We speed past concrete barriers and sleeping soldiers at checkpoints and a number of military convoys. It is a journey of around 370 kilometres to Najaf. I feel exhausted and my neighbour is nodding off beside me.
See the article on the Khaleej Times here