Iraqi authorities have decided to double the number of visas issued for Iranian nationals heading to the holy city of Karbala to commemorate Arba’een, the 40th day after the martyrdom anniversary of Imam Hussein (AS), the third Shia Imam.
The media bureau of the Iraqi prime minister’s office said in a statement that Mustafa al-Kadhimi had ordered officials to increase the quota for pilgrims from 40,000 to 80,000, including 60,000 for Iran.
Iraq had initially permitted entry to 30,000 Iranian pilgrims provided that they travel by air.
“This increase comes as the Arba'een and the pilgrimage to Imam Hussein (AS) shrine is drawing near... The rise in the foreign pilgrim numbers is meant to allow as many visitors as possible to attend the procession. All foreign pilgrims are, however, required to be vaccinated, have negative PCR tests for COVID-19 and strictly follow health protocols,” the statement read.
“By God’s help and through commitment to health protocols, the numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases will decline and Iraq will once again receive guests from all over the world,” it added.
For the second year in a row, Iranian pilgrims have been barred from traveling by road to neighboring Iraq for the annual Arba'een pilgrimage.
Officials in southwestern Khuzestan province have announced that no Iranian pilgrims would be allowed through Chazabeh and Shalamcheh border crossings into Iraq this year.
Likewise, local authorities in Iran’s western Ilam province have closed the busy Mehran border crossing point.
Last year, Iraq banned foreign pilgrims traveling to the country for Arba’een in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
Every year on Arba’een, millions of people from around the world flock to Karbala. Large groups of mourners travel on foot toward the holy city to take part in the largest annual Islamic gathering on earth. The ceremony falls on September 27 this year.
Imam Hussein (AS) and his 72 companions were martyred in the Battle of Karbala in southern Iraq in 680 AD after fighting courageously for justice against the much larger army of the Umayyad caliph, Yazid I.
Iraqi PM Kadhimi to visit Iran on Sunday
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Kadhimi will visit Tehran over the weekend to discuss a range of issues, including bilateral relations and regional developments, with senior Iranian officials, Iraqi media outlets reported Thursday.
Kadhimi, heading a high-level government delegation, is expected to arrive in the Iranian capital on Sunday, they said.
It would be Kadhimi’s first visit to Tehran since Ebrahim Raeisi was sworn in as Iran’s new president.
On August 5, Raeisi told his Iraqi counterpart Barham Salih that Iran wanted a powerful and strong Iraq and was determined to further improve relations with Baghdad.