TEHRAN: More than two million Iranian pilgrims have crossed the border into Iraq for the annual Arbaeen 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 Shias in memory of the seventh century martyrdom of the Imam Hussain.
Participation in Arbaeen 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, the Iranian state television has been broadcasting footage of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims heading on foot to Karbala.
“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 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.
Published in Dawn, November 9th, 2017