Iran Suspends Pilgrim Tours to Iraq

A00164409.jpgTEHRAN (FNA)- Iran has suspended pilgrim tours to Shiite Muslim holy sites in Iraq because of rising violence there.

More than 130 people have been killed and hundreds wounded in Iraq since Tuesday, when the government launched an operation against Shiite militias in the southern city of Basra. Fighting has since spread across southern Iraq.

In the wake of recent insecurities in Iraq, Iran’s hajj and pilgrimage organization has suspended the dispatch of all Iranian pilgrims to the Shiite holy sites in Iraq until further notice.

The Mehran border post had been “earmarked for the return of pilgrims who had travelled to Iraqi Shiite holy sites prior to the recent insecurities in that country.”

The Iraqi cities of Najaf and Karbala are home to some of holiest Shiite shrines. Pilgrims from Iran, which is overwhelmingly Shiite, flock there.

State television said that as well as suspending tours, the Interior Ministry was urging Iranians not to travel to Iraq as individuals.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini protested earlier against what he said was the fingerprinting of Iranian pilgrims entering Iraq by US troops.

He said pilgrims went to Iraq under an agreement between the two neighbors and with “appropriate coordination between Iranian and Iraqi officials and (hence) there is no need for another party’s interference”.

The United States has accused Iran of stirring up violence in Iraq by funding, training and supplying weapons to Iraqi militias, a charge Iran vehemently denies. Tehran blames the presence of US troops for the instability and says they should quit Iraq.

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