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Iran and Iraq sign tourism deal

The agreement follows protests of Iranian “interference” after a drone attack targeted an alleged Israeli spy base in northern Iraq.
Tourists stroll at a holy site in the Iraqi city of Najaf on Aug. 14, 2018.

Iran and Iraq signed an agreement today aimed at boosting tourist visits between the two neighboring countries. 

Iranian Tourism Minister Ezzatollah Zarghami and his Iraqi counterpart, Hassan Nazem, signed the memorandum of understanding in Tehran. The agreement specifically mentioned joint projects on religious tourism following the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, such as facilitating visas, building hotels and investment in the tourism sector, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported

Iraqis and Iranians frequently visit one another’s countries for religious reasons. There are numerous sites holy to Shiite Muslims in both countries, including the Imam Hussein shrine in Karbala, Iraq, and the holy city of Qom, Iran. 

Why it matters: The agreement came at a tense point in Iraq-Iran relations. Last week, three rockets hit the city of Erbil in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, injuring three. Following the attack, Iran again claimed there is an Israeli intelligence center in the city, which Iraqi officials again denied. Iran also fired missiles into Erbil in March targeting the alleged Israeli base. 

On Sunday, Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein criticized what he described as Iranian “interference” in Iraq. 

“These problems regarding Iranian interference whether political or otherwise, we have started talking with the Iranian side differently,” he said. “Tehran has started to hear a different language from Baghdad, one that did not exist before.”

Iran exerts considerable influence over Iraq. The Islamic Republic supports various militias in the country. Last month, Iranian allies in the Iraqi parliament helped pass a law criminalizing normalization with Israel. 

Know more: Tourist visits are increasing in Iraq. The country received a 145% increase in visitors last year. 

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