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Facing Enraged Iranian Pilgrims, Iraq Closes its Borders

IRAQ -- A military vehicle of members of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and Iraqi Border Guards are seen on the Iraqi side of Mandali border crossing between Iraq and Iran, in Mandali, July 11, 2020

The Iraqi Border Authority have announced that the country's borders are closed, a response to videos posted on social media showing some Iranian pilgrims storming toward Iran's western borders to reach the Iraqi city of Karbala.

Iraq was one of the first countries to confirm being hit by the novel coronavirus spread from Iran. On February 21, one day after Tehran officially announced the deadly virus outbreak in Iran, Iraq closed its borders with the neighboring country.

In recent days, images have surfaced on the Internet showing Iraqi border guards struggling to stop a group of enraged Iranian pilgrims from crossing the border.

Iraq has repeatedly asserted that it will not allow foreign pilgrims to attend the Arba'een religious ceremony this year due to the coronavirus.

Arba'een marks the 40th day following the death of Shi'ite's third Imam, Hossain ibn Ali, in Karbala in the 7th century. Last year, many Shi'ites from different parts of the world, including more than two million Iranians, attended the annual ceremony.

Before the deadly virus outbreak, millions of pilgrims used to make their way on foot to Karbala to commemorate Arbaeen, regarded as the largest annual public gathering in the world.

In a report on Friday, the Iraqi border guards announced that the country's borders are not open to any foreign visitors. The report added that Iraqi border guards have stepped up security measures to fortify the borders against foreign nationals' illegal entry into the country.

Meanwhile, Iran's official statistics show that after the days after Muharram, the number of people tested positive for coronavirus in the country increased to roughly three thousand people a day, though Iranian officials have not officially confirmed the direct link between the increase in the number of patients and Muharram.

Over the past month, there have been about 4,000 daily cases of coronavirus in Iraq.

The closure of Iran-Iraq borders has also severely affected trade relations between the two countries. Iran's five-month customs statistics show that the country's non-oil exports to Iraq have dropped to $1.8 billion. The figure was $3.5 billion in the same period last year.