Dec 28 2012
By Sabah al-Khalidi
Azzaman, December 28, 2012
The Iraqi government has removed visa restrictions on pilgrims on their way to pay homage of Muslim shrines during ‘holy’ occasions.
The move will make it possible for tens of thousands of pilgrims, particularly Muslim Shiites, to fly to the country and obtain their visas at the Iraqi airports instead of applying for it at the Iraqi embassies in their countries.
Muslim Shiites from across the world head for Iraq during Shiite holy days. Traditionally, they want to spend their holidays in the courtyards of their holy saints in Karbala and Najaf, the two cities which for Shiites are the most revered after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.
On every occasion, tens of millions of pilgrims from Bahrain, Lebanon, Pakistan, Iran and other countries fly to Iraq.
Iraqi authorities hope the removal of visa restrictions will increase the number of pilgrims substantially.
The measure only applies during holy occasions and days and not throughout the year.
Iraq is keen to develop a tourist industry based on its religious sites and richness in antiquities and Mesopotamian heritage.
The cities of Najaf and Karbala are currently the scene of a construction boom, catering for the influx of tourists.
Both cities rely on tourism as an earner of foreign cash and the success of their battle against unemployment.
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