First Published: 2017-11-08

Iranian pilgrims descend on Iraq
Annual Arbaeen pilgrimage marks the end of 40 days' mourning by Shiite Muslims in memory of the seventh century martyrdom of Imam Hussein.
Middle East Online

Shiite Muslim pilgrims gather in the southern Iraqi city of Karbala.

TEHRAN - More than two million Iranian pilgrims have crossed the border into Iraq for the annual Arbaeen Shiite pilgrimage to be celebrated on Thursday, an Iranian official said on state television.

"Some 2.32 million visas have been issued so far, and 2.2 million pilgrims are already in Iraq," Shahriar Heydari, spokesman for the Iranian committee organising the pilgrimage to the holy city of Karbala, said on Wednesday.

Arbaeen marks the end of 40 days' mourning by Shiites in memory of the seventh century martyrdom of the Imam Hussein.

Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, was killed in 680 during the Battle of Karbala, creating the first schism in Islam between Shiites and Sunnis.

Participation in Arbaeen from mainly Shiite Iran has spiked massively in recent years, with some two to three million Iranians among the 17 to 20 million pilgrims who attended last year.

For the past several days, state television in the Islamic republic has been broadcasting footage of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims heading on foot to Karbala, which is around 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Baghdad.

Arbaeen, which was banned when the late Sunni Muslim dictator Saddam Hussein ran Iraq, has become more and more popular among Iranians over the past few years.

In 2011, only 40,000 Iranian pilgrims took part, compared with the millions last year and this month.

The authorities in Iran look upon the commemoration as a symbol of the power of Shiite Islam, especially at a time of raised tensions with regional Sunni rival Saudi Arabia and the United States, Tehran's arch-foe.

"The glorious presence of millions of people for Arbaeen is a serious message to all those who plot against the region," President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday.

Press reports say Iran's logistical support for its pilgrims includes sending medical teams from the Iranian Red Crescent and facilitating access to the country's mobile phone and internet networks while in Iraq.

This year, the authorities have issued several warnings that Iranians without visas would not be allowed to go to Karbala.

Visas costing $40 (35 euros) are issued by the Iraqi consular authorities.

According to media reports, up to 300,000 would-be but visa-less pilgrims have been turned back by Iranian authorities at the border.

Last month, Iranian newspapers reported that police had seized 100,000 fake visas for Iraq and made six arrests ahead of Arbaeen.

 

UN Security Council lenient to Turkey’s Syria offensive

Washington probes Hezbollah ‘narcoterrorism’

Tillerson to present US strategy on Syria to European, Arab allies

Russia pension funds may invest in Aramco IPO

Iranian woman skydiver looks to break down stereotypes

Palestinians in occupied West Bank get 3G

Turkish army clashes with Kurdish militia amid US alarm

Turkey arrests dozens accused of ‘terror propaganda’

Three French female jihadists face possible death penalty in Iraq

Women journalists protest separation during Pence visit to Jerusalem

Egypt military accuses presidential hopeful of committing crimes

Israeli minister calls to ban author praising Palestinian teen

Qatar supports Turkey’s offensive against Kurds

World powers meet on Syria chemical attacks

Morocco's king appoints five new ministers

Pence pledges US embassy move by end of 2019 on Jerusalem trip

Russia calls for diplomatic solution to Yemen conflict

Russia invites Kurds to join Syria peace process

Turkey shells Kurdish targets in northern Syria

Closer look at pro-Ankara rebels amassing around Afrin

Pence set for Palestinian snub

Abbas to ask EU to recognise Palestinian state

Saudi-led coalition to give $1.5 bln in Yemen aid

Mattis: Turkey gave US advance warning on Syria operation

Yemen releases budget for first time in three years

Saudi calls for cooperation between OPEC, non-OPEC countries

France presses Turkey to end offensive against Kurds

The changing faces of al-Qaeda in Syria

Kurdish militia fire rockets at Turkish town

Moroccans wary depreciation of dirham could raise cost of living, despite benefits

Deserted streets, terrified civilians after Turkey attacks Afrin

Iraqi, Kurdish leaders hold talks on bitter regional dispute

Russia-led Syria peace congress to be held January 30

Turkey launches new strikes on Kurdish targets in Syria

Egypt's Sisi says will stand for re-election

Pence heads to Mideast despite Muslim, Christian anger

Assad regime says Syria a 'tourist' destination

Journalists arrested while reporting Sudan protests

Aid for millions of Palestinians hostage to politics

Lebanon thwarts holiday attacks using IS informant

Mortar fire wounds 14 in Syria mental hospital

Turkish military fires on Kurdish forces in Syria's Afrin

More than 32,000 Yemenis displaced in intensified fighting

UN warns of "lost generation" in South Sudan's grinding conflict

Saudi's refined oil exports offset crude curbs