Iran Bans Pilgrims from Visiting Iraq via Third Countries
Iran has banned its nationals from travelling to Iraq via third countries amid Syrian efforts to attract Iranian pilgrims eager to visit Iraq's holy shrines, press reports said Tuesday.
Iran's pilgrimage organization said in a statement published in newspapers that Iranians who make such trips encounter problems upon return and that voyages via a third country were "unauthorized."
It said the decision had been taken after a campaign from Syrian travel agencies, which an Iranian diplomat in Damascus told AFP had begun to attract nearly 1,000 Iranians per week making the trip to Iraq via Syria.
Massud Rahimi, a consul at Iran's embassy in Syria, said that the Syrian-Iraqi border was opened last year for Iranian pilgrims wishing to visit Shiite Muslim shrines in Iraq.
Under a 1998 agreement between Baghdad and Tehran, some 3,000 Iranian pilgrims visit Iraq each week in trips organized by Iraqi and Iranian companies.
The two nations, who have yet to sign a formal peace treaty ending their brutal 1980-1988 war, have moved recently to improve relations and resolve outstanding issues left over from the conflict.
The question of prisoners of war as well as the presence of the opposition on each other's territory has thus far prevented a return to full diplomatic relations, which remain at the level of charge d'affaires.
Occasional spats about border crossing fees for pilgrims have also put a damper on relations -- TEHRAN (AFP)
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