By Padraig O’Hannelly.

Our friend and former contributor Robert Tollast has been touring Iraq’s religious and archeological sites.

Writing in Middle East Eye, he says:

“Iraq still gives visitors a sense of having a private viewing of some of the world’s wonders, such as the 4,000-year-old ruins of Babylon, and the awe-inspiring Holy Shrines of Hussein and Ali with their intricate mirrored ceilings and breathtaking tile work.”

His full article can be read here.

(Picture Credit: Middle East Eye / Charlotte Mayhew)

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

Iraq to expand Karbala shrine for growing number of pilgrims

The Iraqi city of Karbala is planning a major expansion of a key religious site to cope with a growing number of pilgrims.

More than 30 million people visit the shrines of Imam Hussein and Abbas each year.

Al Jazeera‘s Dorsa Jabbari reports from Karbala:

Iraq on Monday began issuing entry visa for Iranians free of charge in a reciprocal move under a deal reached three weeks ago.

As of Monday, Iranians travelling to Iraq could obtain visa free of charge.

The Iraqi cabinet of ministers said the decision that took effect on April 1 has been made as a reciprocal move which had been agreed upon during Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s recent visit to Iraq.

After the conclusion of five agreements between Tehran and Baghdad on March 12, President Rouhani said the two Muslim neighbors have agreed to lift visa requirements for the citizens of both nations, including pilgrims and tourists.

“The Iraqi side currently prefers the visa regime, but there is no payment for a visa, which is a step forward in the process of facilitating the relations between the two nations,” the Iranian president has said in a landmark visit to Iraq.

(Source: Tasnim, under Creative Commons licence)

By John Lee.

The General Company for Land Transport (GCLT) has held a meeting with its Saudi Arabian counterpart to discuss the opening of the Arar border crossing between the two countries.

According to a statement from Iraq’s Ministry of Transport, the participants stressed the importance of the new border facility for commercial trade and religious tourism.

A report this week from Asharq al-Awsat quotes the Chairman of Saudi Arabia’s General Customs Authority, Ahmed al-Hakbani, as saying that the new crossing will be equipped with state-of-the-art technology and meet international standards, adding that he expected it to become “the top global crossing in terms of technology.”

(Sources: Iraqi Ministry of Transport, Asharq al-Awsat)

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the fact that each year, 7 million Iraqis and Iranians visit each other’s country is a sign of the two neighboring countries’ close ties.

Speaking at a meeting with Iraqi Parliament Speaker Mohammed Al-Halbousi in Baghdad on Monday, attended by the chairmen of the Iraqi parliamentary factions, Zarif hailed the relations between the two countries, the parliamentary ties in particular.

The fact that seven million Iranians and Iraqis visit each other’s country each year is an outstanding sign of “the proximity of the two great nations,” Zarif said.

Every year, a large number of Iranians visit Iraq for pilgrimage. Iranian pilgrims travel to Karbala, Najaf and Baghdad to pay homage to Shia Imams buried in Iraq.

Iraqis visit the Iranian cities of Mashhad and Qom for pilgrimage.

The Iraqi parliament speaker, for his part, referred to the two countries’ common interests and praised Iran’s role in helping the Iraqi people defeat the Daesh (ISIS or ISIL) terror group.

Daesh militants made swift advances in much of northern and western Iraq over the summer of 2014, after capturing large swaths of northern Syria.

However, a combination of concentrated attacks by the Iraqi military and the volunteer forces, who rushed to take arms after top Iraqi cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a fatwa calling for fight against the militants, blunted the edge of Daesh offensive.

In November 2017, the self-proclaimed caliphate of Daesh collapsed after Syrian and Iraqi armed forces and their allies managed to recapture the terror group’s last strongholds in the two Arab countries.

(Source: Tasnim, under Creative Commons licence)

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

US sanctions have made it too expensive for Iranian Shia Muslims to travel to Iraq to mark Ashoura.

Ashoura is a day of remembrance, commemorating the death of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Mohammed.

Al Jazeera’s Rob Matheson reports from Baghdad:

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.

Iraq’s religious tourism suffers from US sanctions on Iran

US economic sanctions on Iran are stemming the flow of religious tourists to neighboring Iraq, even as the Muslim holy month of Muharram has already begun on Sept. 11. Also approaching is Ashura, the Shiite commemoration of the death of Hussein ibn Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, on Sept. 20.

Officials say the number of Iranian religious tourists traveling to Iraq has fallen significantly because of the penalties against Tehran, which Washington reinstated Aug. 7.

Click here to read the full story (registration required).

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

Iraqis in the holy city of Najaf are being hit hard by US sanctions on neighbouring Iran, which have forced cash-strapped pilgrims to stay at home.

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By John Lee.

Iraq will reportedly reduce its visa charges for Iranian pilgrims later this year.

According to the report from Associated Press, the reduction will only apply to pilgrims of the “Arbaeen,” the anniversary of the passage of 40 days after the death of Shiite Imam Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson.

Visas normally cost $40, but it was not reported what the new price will be.

(Source: AP)