Iranians flock to Iraqi city for pilgrimage
BARRED from Mecca amid an escalating spat between Tehran and Saudi Arabia, masses of Iranian Shiite faithful have converged on the holy Iraqi city of Karbala for an alternative pilgrimage.
The row that has prevented Iranians taking part in this year’s hajj pilgrimage is diverting hundreds of thousands to the shrine of Imam Hussein, one of the holiest sites in Shiite Islam.
“I expect the number of pilgrims to reach a million, about 75 percent of them Iranians,” Adel al-Mussawi, a shrine official, said.
Not all of those had planned to travel to Mecca but many of the 64,000 Iranians who were allocated places for this year’s hajj ended up in the holy Iraqi city.
Visiting the Imam Hussein shrine does not have the same religious significance as the hajj, which is a pillar of Islam and therefore an obligation for Muslims who are able at least once in their lifetime.
But followers of the Shiite sect of Islam feel more at home in Karbala than in Mecca, where around 2300 people died in a stampede last year, including 464 Iranians.
Iran has accused Riyadh of incompetence and of failing to investigate the 2015 disaster or take satisfactory precautions.
Talks broke down between the two regional powerhouses and Iranians were denied entry. –
Iranian Shiite pilgrims arrive at the Shalamcheh border crossing near Basra on their way to the holy city of Karbala, southern Iraq, on September 10.