TEHRAN (FNA)- Iranian authorities Friday issued warnings urging citizens to avoid crossing the border with Iraq, saying border police were harassing pilgrims.
Hossein Akbari, the deputy head of the Iranian pilgrimage organization, said Iraqi border officials lacked the experience and professional constraints their predecessors displayed.
“Iraqi police’s behavior has dramatically changed compared to the past. Apparently, they (police) have beaten up Iranian pilgrims on a premeditated plan to make them fearful and horrified,” he said.
According to the Islamic republic news agency, he expressed concern over reports Iraqi border officials had beaten pilgrims and clerical elites traveling to the holy city of Karbala as officials note a dramatic decline in the number of Iranian pilgrims entering Iraq.
A statement from the Iranian Interior Ministry earlier this week banned pilgrims from crossing into Iraq along two border points in Ilam and Khuzestan province amid reports US military forces had increased their patrols along the border.
Iraqi military leaders also reported increased encounters with Iranian fighters thought to be linked to the elite Quds Force. Iraqi Maj. Aziz Latief said in October two Iranians were killed in clashes in Wasit province along the Iranian border.
Meanwhile, Iranian military officials issued warnings to US forces in Iraq, saying they would respond “forcefully” to any violation of Iranian airspace, noting US helicopters were seen flying near the Iranian border.