Vacation Gridlock: Too Many Holidays Paralyse Karbala City
Of all Iraqi cities, Karbala may well be the one with the most holidays. That’s because when there is a major religious occasion millions flock into the city. To prepare for this, authorities tell everyone to go on holiday. But all the vacations are having a seriously stressful impact on locals’ lives.
Some would say that when it comes to annual holidays, the southern city of Karbala is one of the luckiest in Iraq. The city gets more than a quarter of the year off in religious and other holidays.
Because in addition to the holidays they share with the rest of the country the city also has its own extra share of holidays around various religious festivals and these amount to an extra month.
For example, two weeks ago Karbala took 15 days off in preparation for a bigger religious festival. The city is a centre of religious scholarship and home to the shrines of some of the most important icons in Islam – as such, it sees literally millions of visitors flooding into the city for religious holidays.
Previous to this occasion only a fortnight earlier, government departments and schools were closed for another full week because of security preparations for another big religious holiday.
Now locals are saying that this large number of holidays is bringing the city’s normal life to a standstill and severely impinging on those who need to get business done. The worst affected, they say, are students who are losing days of schooling – especially when compared to their counterparts elsewhere in Iraq – and those who need government departments to process papers or requests.
On religious occasions, pilgrims coming to Karbala may be targeted by extremists so strict security measures are instituted by the local authorities. This makes it difficult for locals to get around the city, and in particular, for students and teachers to get to their schools.