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|Wednesday, December 20, 2000, updated at 21:59(GMT+8)|
Iranian Pilgrims Banned from Visiting Iraq Via Third CountriesIran has banned its nationals from traveling to Iraq via third countries, saying pilgrimages to Muslim holy sites in Iraq can only be arranged by Iranian and Iraqi companies, the local Iran Daily reported on Wednesday, December 20.
The measure has been taken amid efforts by Syrian travel agencies to attract Iranian pilgrims eager to visit Iraqi holy sites, the Iranian Pilgrimage Organization was quoted as saying by the English-language newspaper.
The Syrian travel agencies tried to attract nearly 1,000 Iranians per week to Iraq via Syria, whose border with Iraq was reopened last year, the organization said.
It warned Iranians who went to Iraq via Syria would encounter problems upon return and the voyages via a third country were " unauthorized."
Under a 1998 agreement between Iran and Iraq, some 3,000 Iranian pilgrims are allowed to visit Iraq each week in trips arranged by the two neighbors.
The Iraqi government closed the Manzarieh crossing point to Iranian pilgrims on July 30 this year over financial differences with Iran.
But during a landmark visit to Baghdad by Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi in mid-October, the two sides decided to reopen the crossing point.
The two countries have also agreed to increase the number of Iranians to visit Iraqi holy sites from the original 3,000 to 4,800 per week.
The two neighbors fought a bloody war from 1980 to 1988 and have yet to sign a formal peace treaty.
Kharazi's visit was considered a historical step toward resolving the remaining issues between the two countries, including the issue of prisoners of war and the backing of opposition groups based in each other's territory.
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