Iran pushing huge tourism in neighboring Iraq

Tehran, Iran, November 19

By Mehdi Sepahvand –- Trend:

A huge tourism market is forming to the west of Iran in Iraq where annually over 20 million people gather in the city of Karbala on the same day, called the Arbaeen.

Besides its religious basis, the Shia ritual turned into a show of power in 2014 when it brought millions of pilgrims to the country great parts of which were under the sway of the terrorist Islamic State (IS, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh).

But as people continued to visit the place in 2015 and this year, the event is promising a huge new market for tourism, beside the fact that the pilgrimages are not limited to the Arbaeen as many Shias visit the holy city around the year.

After Saudi Arabia cut ties with Iran in early 2016, Iran cancelled Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, leaving many lovers of the Hajj in dismay. However, millions of Iranians seem to have found Karbala a good place for religious tourism now that they cannot go to Mecca.

The Iranian nation used to chant hopeful songs about visiting Karbala as a promised land during the long years of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s when the two neighbor countries were at loggerheads. As former dictator Saddam Hussein was brought own, the Iranian lovers of Karbala are flooding there.

It goes without need to say that the travels of tens of millions of people to this place requires the foundation of necessary tourism infrastructure, which Iran seems to be just about to begin.

On October 28, Said Owhadi, head of Iran’s Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization said “the first standard hotel in Karbala” was about to be opened in one week, adding, “The construction of the biggest hotel in Najaf has also made 70 percent project so far.”

About 10 days ahead of the ay of Arbaeen, which falls on November 20 this year, Iranian officials announced that over 1 million people had left the country for the Arbaeen pilgrimage, estimating the final number to well overpass 2 million.

Besides religious bonds, Iranians have many cultural and even ethnic bonds with the Iraqi, which provides good grounds for them as businessmen for trade between the two countries. Since the general reconstruction of Iraq began after the US invasion of the 2000s, Iranian businessmen found a new market for their goods and services.

In the transportation sphere, Iranian authorities recently announced that the bus fare for one way trips to the border with Iraq will be doubled during the Arbaeen pilgrimage.

In mid-October, Atrian, an official with a special Arbaeen transport logistics workgroup, said that this year 120,000 buses would operate to take Iranian pilgrims to the Iraqi border.

Governmental and non-governmental bodies in Iran are also providing incentives to make the pilgrims’ tour more attractive, which can boost their number over the following years.

Health Minister Mehdi Qazizadeh Hashemi on November 19 said 324,000 pilgrims had received medical help since the start of the Arbaeen season this year.

He noted 437 ambulances, 36 bus ambulances, 25 moto ambulances, 6 air ambulances, 8 field hospitals, 20 specialty hospitals, as well as 41 clinics were prepared to serve the pilgrims.

On the same day, Deputy Chief of Police Eskandar Momeni said camps had been prepared at the border by the IRGC and Red Crescent to lodge over 10,000 pilgrims at a time.

The borderline Ilam Province IRGC Commander Sadeq Hosseini also said 130 kitchens were working to prepare the pilgrims’ food.

Akbar Kazemi, deputy director of the center for reconstruction of holy shrines in Iraq, in October said rest and food facilities would be provided to 800,000 Iranian pilgrims inside Iraq each day during the Arbaeen.

Follow the author on Twitter @mehdisepahvand

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