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Iran bans nationals from Iraq pilgrimages following mass anti-government protests Open in fullscreen

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Iran bans nationals from Iraq pilgrimages following mass anti-government protests

Protests have erupted across Iraq, including the country's holiest cities [Getty]

Date of publication: 4 November, 2019

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More than 250 people have lost their lives since anti-government rallies broke out in Iraq on 1 October, with many protesters denouncing Iran for its interference in the country.
Iran has prohibited its nationals from travelling to Iraq for religious pilgrimages due to the ongoing "security situation" in the neighbouring country.

Authorities said Iraq's current security situation, which has seen mass nationwide protests for weeks, does not permit the presence of Iranian visitors, local media reported.

Iran's official Hajj and Pilgrimage Organisation have requested offices halt the flow of Iranian pilgrims visiting holy shrines across Iraq, including Karbala and Najaf, until further notice, reports said.

The move comes amid continuing demonstrations in Iraq calling for the overthrow of the regime as well as an end to foreign interference, namely Iran, Saudi Arabia, the US and Israel.

Iraq has close but complicated ties with its eastern neighbour Iran, with whom it fought a deadly war in the 1980s but which now has significant political and economic sway in Iraq.

The Iraq Report: Blood on the streets of Karbala as protests intensify

Every year, millions of Iranian pilgrims travel to the holy city of Karbala, 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Baghdad, to visit the golden-domed mausoleum of Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad's grandson.

But many Iraqis protesting over the past month accuse Iran of being the primary sponsor of the corrupt, inefficient system they want to overthrow. 

On Monday, three protesters were shot dead overnight during a demonstration outside the Iranian consulate in Iraq's holy city of Karbala, according to the head of the forensics department.

Security forces in Karbala fired live ammunition to disperse protesters trying to scale the walls of the consulate in the southern city and torch it.

Journalists witnessed protesters left motionless after suffering gunshot wounds, and the forensic medicine department later confirmed three people died.

More than 250 people have lost their lives since anti-government rallies broke out in Iraq on 1 October, but officials have stopped providing casualty numbers.

In Karbala, late on Sunday, protesters hung Iraqi flags on the concrete blocks surrounding the imposing Iranian consulate and spray-painted "Karbala is free, Iran out, out!" on them.

Others threw rocks or shot fireworks over the walls into the consulate, then set fire to tyres at the gates of the building as police officers looked on. 

 

Tehran, meanwhile, has sought to clamp down the protests next door, with sources reporting top commander Qassem Soleimani making several visits to "advise" Iraqi authorities on coping with the rallies.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has also slammed protests in Iraq and Lebanon as conspiracies by the US and others.

Protesters in Iraq's capital and the country's south shut down streets and government offices in a new wave of civil disobedience Sunday, escalating their month-long movement demanding wholesale change of the political system.

Baghdad has proposed a string of reforms, including a hiring drive, social welfare plans and early elections once a new voting law is passed.

But protesters have stayed on the streets, condemning the political class wholesale.

Amnesty International slammed Iraqi forces days ago for using two types of military-grade tear gas canisters that have pierced protesters' skulls and lungs.

Rights groups have also expressed worry over the detention of protesters, journalists and medics.

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