From AFP. Any opinions expressed are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Millions of Shiite pilgrims travelled to Iraq’s shrine city of Karbala for the Arbaeen commemoration Thursday of Imam Hussein’s killing in battle:

The rising level of dust pollution in Iraq forced Iranian airlines to cancel their flights to the Arab country’s cities of Baghdad and Najaf ahead of Arbaeen, the 40th day after the anniversary of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein (AS), the third Shiite Imam.

With dust clouds reducing visibility, Iranian flights heading to Baghdad and Najaf were grounded or delayed for a second straight day on Tuesday, Iranian media reported.

Officials at Imam Khomeini International Airport said the pilgrims traveling to Iraq for Arbaeen were required to call “199” and get the necessary information before heading to the airport.

Authorities at Najaf and Baghdad airports have also canceled all the flights because of the wind-blown dust caused by sandstorms in the Arab country.

A large group of Iranian pilgrims, wearing face masks, are stranded in airports and at Iran-Iraq joint border crossings.

Each year, a huge crowd of Shiite Muslims attend the religious commemoration of Arbaeen, by marching toward the holy city of Karbala, Iraq, which hosts the holy shrine of Imam Hussein (AS).

During the Arbaeen event, volunteers set up thousands of congregation halls and pavilions in Najaf and Karbala and along the road between them to offer services for the travelers and pilgrims.

(Source: Tasnim, under Creative Commons licence)

Finland’s Nokia will modernize and expand Zain Iraq‘s radio networks with its most advanced technologies across Karbala, Najaf and Basra, with a special focus on the holy cities of Karbala and Najaf, to support the expected increase in data and voice traffic during Zeyara as millions of people converge on the region.

Zeyara is an annual event in the holy city of Karbala, which culminates in the event of Al Arba’een. It attracts visitors from across the globe and is one of the world’s largest public gatherings.

Once completed, the upgrade will allow users to enjoy improved indoor and outdoor coverage in both urban and rural areas as well as increased data throughput, leading to an overall superior customer experience.

Nokia’s project management and proven services expertise will be used to expand and modernize Zain Iraq’s 2G and 3G network, providing ubiquitous coverage and faster mobile broadband.

Additionally, the Nokia Mass Event Handler will be deployed to address the surge in data and voice consumption expected during Zeyara. The network modernization will allow visitors to remain continuously connected with their loved ones through superior voice and data connectivity during Al Arba’een and beyond.

Ali Al-Zahid, Chief Executive Officer of Zain Iraq, said:

Our top priority is to provide superior services for our subscribers. This network modernization and expansion is only the beginning of providing the best possible service quality and coverage with the most advanced technologies across the overall Karbala and Najaf and rest of sourthern region.

“We selected Nokia, our longstanding technology partner, for this important project, as we are confident that its advanced technologies will enable our network to provide such superior services. The current project will also enable a best-in-class mobile experience for visitors to Zeyara when we expect a high turnout this year.

Bernard Najm, head of the Middle East Market Unit at Nokia, said:

“Nokia fully understands Zain Iraq’s requirements and is committed to providing leading technologies to enable pioneering services for its subscribers. Nokia’s solutions cater to the unique connectivity requirements of mass events, and will help Zain Iraq address the expected surge in data and voice consumption during Zeyara.”

Overview of the solutions:

  • The high capacity and energy-efficient Nokia Flexi Multiradio 10 Base Station will be used to add the third carrier of 5 MHz on the 900 MHz band, to enhance capacity and increase coverage in suburban and rural areas.
  • Nokia’s Mass Event Handler will ensure network performance is not adversely affected because of heavy traffic during Zeyara. Another feature of the software – HSUPA Interference Cancellation – handles data more efficiently, enabling end users to upload pictures without any network glitch.
  • Nokia FlexiZone will be deployed to enhance coverage and capacity of the existing 3G network in Karbala.
  • Nokia’s refarming service will refarm GSM 900 MHz frequency to expand the operator’s 3G network.
  • Nokia’s NetAct virtualized network management software will provide robust capabilities for troubleshooting, assurance, administration, software management and configuration.
  • Nokia’s Network Planning and Optimization (NPO), Network Implementation , and Care services will ensure smooth execution of the project and maximize the return on Zain’s technology investments.

(Source: Nokia)

The Iraqi embassy and consulates in Iran on Monday started to issue visa for the Iranian applicants intending to visit the Arab country for Arbaeen pilgrimage.

The formal visa-issuance process kicked off during a ceremony at the Iraqi embassy in Tehran, attended by Ambassador Rajih Sabir Aboudi al-Mousavi.

In addition to the Iraqi embassy, the Arab country’s consulates in the Iranian cities of Mashhad, Kermanshah and Ahvaz have also begun processing the visa applications.

As of September 23, 12 other offices across Iran will also start to issue visa for Iranian pilgrims.

All pilgrims will have to submit an application through a designated website.

More than 2.4 million Iranians traveled to Iraq in 2016 for Arbaeen, a major Shiite occasion marking the 40th day after the martyrdom anniversary of Imam Hussein (AS).

Officials predict that the number of Iranian visitors would hit 3 million this year.

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 on Arbaeen.

(Source: Tasnim, under Creative Commons licence)

By Wassim Bassem for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News. 

The Karbala Provincial Council announced March 3 the formation of a committee to follow up on the issue of adding the city — which is home to about 300 archaeological sites — to the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites.

The Fortress of al-Ukhaidir (built in 778) was included on the UNESCO agenda during a July 2016 meeting. The site, however, did not meet all the conditions and was not considered for the list.

The council also hopes to include Caesar’s Church, which is located 70 kilometers (43 miles) from Karbala, to the list of World Heritage sites since it is the oldest eastern church in history.

It was built in the fifth century, more than 120 years before the emergence of Islam. Today, the church is considered of exceptional importance as it represents a Christian landmark, and promotes shared living and cultural coexistence in an Islamic milieu.

The council also seeks to add to the list al-Tar Caves, located 45 kilometers (27 miles) southwest of Karbala. These rocky formations date back to 1300 B.C. and are believed to have served as a passage for people who used to roam the Iraqi desert heading toward neighboring countries.

Khan al-Utaishi is also nominated for the list of World Heritage sites. It is one of the many archaeological khans, such as Khan al-Nakheel and Khan al-Rabeh. It was established during the Ottoman rule in Iraq (1532-1918) and served as a rest house for travelers from Baghdad and Karbala all the way to Najaf, 160 kilometers (99 miles) south of Baghdad.

By John Lee.

AFP reports that Iraqi officials laid the cornerstone of a new Mid-Euphrates Airport, 35 kilometres (20 miles) south of Karbala.

The $500-million project will be carried out by the UK-based Copperchase, with work supervised by the Khayrat al-Sibtein company, which belongs to the Imam Hussein shrine (pictured).

During the ceremony, Karbala Governor Aqeel al-Turaihi said that Karbala receives millions of pilgrims annually, and building the airport is a necessity.

The first phase will include the construction of a runway, passenger terminal, car park and maintenance facility, with the first flight expected in 18 months.

(Source: AFP)

Iranian pilgrims are forbidden from traveling to the Iraqi city of Samarra until further notice in the wake of a Sunday terrorist attack that killed and wounded scores of Iranian pilgrims in the holy city, an official announced.

Majid Aqababaei, a deputy interior minister for border affairs, told Tasnim on Monday that the decision to ban trips to Samarra has been made for security concerns.

He said the car bomb blast that blew up two buses full of pilgrims in Samarra on Sunday has killed 8 Iranians and wounded 99 others.

According to the official, 88 injured pilgrims were taken back to home by plane on Sunday night, while 11 others have been admitted to Iraqi hospitals.

On Sunday, suicide bombers driving ambulances packed with explosives detonated their vehicles in the Iraqi cities of Tikrit and Samarra, killing dozens of people.

In Samarra, 125 km north of capital Baghdad, an attacker detonated the explosive-laden vehicle in a car park for pilgrims visiting one of Shiite Muslims’ holiest sites, the shrines of Imam Hadi (AS) and his son Imam Hassan al-Askari (AS).

Given the threat posed by the Daesh (ISIL) terrorist group in Iraq, the Arab country’s security forces have stepped up security measures in Shiite-majority cities, particularly at religious sites, ahead of Arbaeen.

Arbaeen, which is one of the largest religious gatherings in the world, comes 40 days after Ashura, the martyrdom anniversary of the third Shiite Imam, Imam Hussein (AS).

(Source: Tasnim, under Creative Commons licence)

By John Lee.

Oman Air has announce that it will be commencing its four times weekly service from Muscat to Najaf from November.

Paul Gregorowitsch, Chief Executive Officer at Oman Air, said:

Following a temporary delay of our service to Najaf as the Operational teams were assessing and scheduling all fleet types for safe deployment on the route, Oman Air is delighted to start this service as our first destination in Iraq.

“The holy city of Najaf offers excellent potential for business travellers, those visiting friends and family, and for pilgrims. We anticipate a high demand.

(Source: Oman Air)

An Iranian deputy foreign minister expressed Tehran’s willingness to ease visa requirements for incoming tourists from Iraq if Baghdad’s government would agree to do so for Iranians traveling to the Arab country.

I have announced in my latest consular trip (to Iraq) that we are willing to remove the visa requirements or take any measure reciprocally,” Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Consular, Parliamentary and Expatriates’ Affairs Hassan Qashqavi told reporters on Saturday.

Iran will abolish visa requirements for Iraqi citizens once Iranian pilgrims are allowed entry into Iraq without having to pay any fee for a visa, he stated.

The deputy foreign minister then emphasized that all Iranian pilgrims planning to visit Iraq this year for the mourning rituals of Arbaeen will still need to apply for a visa, which costs $40.

Arbaeen marks the 40th day after the martyrdom anniversary of the grandson of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), Imam Hussein (AS), the third Shiite imam.

Each year, millions of pilgrims, mainly from Iraq and Iran, travel long routes on foot to Karbala, where the holy shrine of Imam Hussein (AS) is located.

(Source: Tasnim, under Creative Commons licence)

By Adnan Abu Zeed for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News. 

Every year, the number of pilgrims visiting religious sites in Iraq increases. After Iranians were not allowed to travel to Mecca to perform the hajj this year due to Iranian-Saudi disputes, Iranian Shiites headed in great numbers to Imam Husayn Shrine (pictured) in Karbala to celebrate the Day of Arafah on Sept. 10.

There were around 1 million visitors in September. As the holy month of Muharram, during which time Shiites visit Karbala, is approaches, the number of visitors will increase further.

The increase in visitors has sparked questions whether Iraq can find a way to improve the country’s economy, despite the fact that it hasn’t imposed taxes or fines on religious tourists for 12 years. But indicators in August foreshadowed a gradual growth in tourism that focuses on religious and archaeological landmarks.

According to Maitham Laibi, an economist and academic at the University of Baghdad, the country’s economic growth has not been steady in a way that could ensure effective measures to benefit from the increasing number of visitors.

Laibi told Al-Monitor, “Iraq has not been able to use religious sites to its advantage and integrate them in profitable touristic activities due to the managerial mentality that is characterized by lavish spending on these rituals from the state’s budget, instead of investing in encouraging more locals and international pilgrims to visit.”

He said, “During the era of oil prosperity and the large financial revenues, governmental cars were used during the visits and lump sums of money were spent on religious convoys, while no entrance fees to Iraq were collected.”