Includes Al-Ghadeer Day

Iraq’s parliament ratifies controversial public holidays law

BAGHDAD –  The Iraqi Parliament approved a contentious list of public holidays on Wednesday, which includes dates significant to various ethnic and religious groups in the country.

The law recognizes 12 national holidays, including the Kurdish New Year, Newroz, on March 21. It also designates 13 holidays exclusive to followers of minority religious groups such as Christians, Yazidis, Sabea-Mandaeans, and the Jewish Al-Musawi group.

One of the new additions that has sparked controversy is Al-Ghadeer Day, observed by Shia Muslims on the 18th of Dhu Al-Hijjah in the Islamic calendar. Shias comprise approximately 60 percent of the Iraqi population.

According to the Shia tradition, this day marks when Prophet Mohammed designated his cousin Imam Ali as his successor, a claim disputed by Sunnis who recognize Ali as the fourth caliph after Abu Bakr, Omar, and Othman.

Acting Speaker of Parliament Mohsen Al-Mandalawi stated that the Public Holidays Law aims to highlight events significant to the Iraqi people and organize official holidays in the country.

“The law includes all holidays and occasions,” he said during the parliamentary session on Wednesday, emphasizing the symbolic importance of Al-Ghadeer Day and Imam Ali’s revered status among Muslims.

In an apparent effort to appease Sunni Muslims, who make up around 40 percent of Iraq’s population, the parliament also designated 12 Rabia’ Al-Awwal as the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday, aligning with the Sunni celebration. However, the Shia observance of the Prophet’s birthday on 17 Rabia Al-Awwal was not included in the official holidays calendar.

The inclusion of Al-Ghadeer Day as a public holiday has sparked concerns about renewed sectarian tensions. Many Sunnis view the holiday as a negation of the rule of the first three caliphs. Sunni politician and former Parliament Speaker Osama Al-Nujaifi criticized the law on social media as “unpatriotic,” suggesting it might “harm the national fabric” due to its inclusion of Al-Ghadeer Day.

The new holiday calendar also designated March 16 as a national holiday, marking the anniversary of the chemical attack on the Kurdish city of Halabja and the Anfal genocide campaign committed by the former Ba’ath regime in the 1980s.

Following the ratification of the law, dozens of supporters of the Shia National Current gathered at the gates of Kufa Mosque in Najaf on Wednesday evening, responding to a call by their leader, Muqtada Al-Sadr. Al-Sadr had urged his followers to head to mosques to perform gratitude prayers, display Al-Ghadeer banners, and wear green shawls in celebration. Al-Sadr had played a major role in the public push to designate Al-Ghadeer Day as a national holiday for all Iraqis.

Qais al-Khazali, leader of the Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq group, also congratulated the Iraqi people on the parliament’s decision. “We appreciate the efforts of everyone who participated in or supported the approval of this law, which restores the rights of the majority of the [Iraqi] people,” Al-Khazali said in a statement.