By Ibrahim al-Jibouri.
Karbala’s famous old city is home to two of Islam’s most important shrines and attracts millions of tourists. It is also surrounded by high walls and under tight security. But that security is now driving local businesses out and causing residents to leave.
For more than seven years most vehicles have been prevented from entering the old city in Karbala. This is mainly because the old city contains several extremely important sites for Shiite Muslims, including the tomb of the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, which some devotees believe might be one of the gates to heaven.
However because of the heavy security restrictions on Karbala’s old city, which is surrounded by security barriers, getting in there is almost as difficult as getting into paradise. And it seems that the restrictions are killing off regular life in the old city.
Anyone who is not a resident in the area and who wishes to drive into the old city with a car or motorbike needs a special permit. The process involved in obtaining such a permit takes a very long, applicants complain. Additionally a spokesperson for the Karbala police say that those who want to enter the old city with their vehicles again, must obtain special permits every single time they want to drive in.
It was also possible to apply for a special badge if they wanted to keep driving in regularly. But again, these took months to access. Anyone who leaves the city and who doesn’t have a badge like this will find it very difficult to get back in.
This was not only to prevent terrorist attacks, Ahmed al-Hasnawi, a spokesman for the Karbala police, admitted, but to stop too much traffic from getting into the old city which was already crowded with all the tourists coming here.