“The enemy is targeting Arbaeen (pilgrimage) and Iraq and causing trouble because it is hard for them to accept the presence of millions (of pilgrims) in Karbala,” Ayatollah Emami Kashani said, addressing a gathering of worshippers in Tehran on Friday.
“The enemy does not want the flag of Imam Hussein (AS) to be raised,” he said, adding, “The flag of Hussein is the flag of the fight against oppression.”
The cleric further expressed the hope that this year, more Muslims would go on pilgrimage to the shrine of Imam Hussein (AS) and take part in the Arbaeen marches.
The remarks came after the Iranian Foreign Ministry, in a statement on Thursday, expressed sorrow over the sporadic unrest that has broken out in a number of Iraqi cities in recent days.
The death toll from days of violent demonstrations across Iraq surged to 44 on Friday.
Arbaeen, one of the largest religious gatherings in the world, comes 40 days after Ashura, the martyrdom anniversary of the third Shiite Imam.
Each year, a huge crowd of Shiites flock to the Iraqi city of Karbala, where the holy shrine of Imam Hussein (AS) is located, to perform mourning rites.
In August, Iran and Iraq signed an agreement in Tehran to reopen the Khosravi border crossing and remove visa restrictions for Iranian Arbaeen pilgrims.
Iran and Iraq also agreed to raise the level of services and facilities for the pilgrims and enhance border security during the Arbaeen season, which will culminate in a large gathering in Karbala on October 19.