One million Iranians visiting Iraq's Shia shrines

One million Iranians visiting Iraq's Shia shrines
One million Iranian pilgrims have crossed into Iraq this week to visit the shrine of Imam Hussein during the hajj season amid heightened security measures.
2 min read
09 September, 2016
File Photo: Iranians will not join the hajj pilgrimage in Mecca this year [Getty]

One million Iranians have crossed into Iraq this week to visit the shrine of Imam Hussein at the same time close to 1.5 million Muslims have descended on Mecca for the annual hajj pilgrimage.

The Iraqi foreign ministry said on Wednesday that one million Iranians have entered the country through the Zurbatiyah border point to visit the holy site with officials expecting another million to make the pilgrimage.

A foreign ministry statement said that security measures have been heightened in the Shia holy city of Karbala in preparation for the influx of pilgrims.

"We are forecasting that there will be approximately one million additional Iranian visitors entering in the next few days ahead of Waqfat Arafat next week," head of the Zurbatiyah border point, Atef Naji, told The New Arab.

"The border point has been packed with hundreds of thousands of pilgrims. We are trying to speed up the entry procedures."

The shrine of Imam Hussein in Karbala is the holiest site in Shia Islam, after Mecca, Medina and the al-Aqsa compound, which they share with Sunni Muslims.

An Iraqi military official said that three army units have been deployed to Karbala to ensure the security of the visitors.

"The security measures include a ban on large lorries entering the city centre, new checkpoints around the city and limited pedestrian movement," the official said.

Last week, Islamic state group [IS] fighters armed with suicide vests, rifles and grenades killed 18 people at a wedding in the oasis town of Ain al-Tamer, 50 kilometres west from Karbala.

IS, a Sunni extremist organisation, has long targeted Shias and their shrines and has warned of further attacks against the religious group. It views them as heretics.

For the first time in almost three decades, Iranians will not join the hajj in Saudi Arabia this year after talks between Tehran and Riyadh on logistics and security fell apart in May.

Verbal sparring between the two regional rivals has intensified ahead of this year's hajj pilgrimage.

Huge crowds of Iranian Shias flock to Karbala each year to perform mourning rites during the Arbaeen religious observance.