Published on : Friday, January 4, 2019
With hotels facing mass cancellations, Iraqis in the holy city of Najaf are being hit hard by US sanctions on neighbouring Iran, which have forced cash-strapped pilgrims to stay home.
With mosaic-covered walls and topped by a golden dome, is the shrine of Imam Ali, son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed and a holy figure among Shiite Muslims. The shrine is located at the border of the city.
The shrine witnesses a million and a half Shiite pilgrims to Najaf each year, in addition to those who travel to the holy city for the huge annual Arbaeen commemoration.
The vast majority of these pilgrims hail from neighbouring Iran, whose population is overwhelmingly Shiite.
Signs throughout the city, 150 kms south of Baghdad, are translated into Farsi.
One can hear Iran’s national language across Najaf, spoken by women in full-length black veils and by male pilgrims, walking in the shade to avoid the scorching sunlight.
Since April, Iranian rial has been severely hit by internal economic woes and the US measures, losing around half of its value against the dollar. Hence, the drop in pilgrim numbers is a direct result of the currency crisis.
Further measures due to come in November will affect Iran’s central bank and the vital hydrocarbon industry.
Cancellations by Iranian pilgrims are expected to have dramatic outcome for Iraq’s tourism sector, which last year directly or indirectly employed around 544,500 people.
Tourism also contributed three percent of GDP, nearly US$5 billion dollars, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. Tourism is almost exclusively religious in Iraq and is chiefly concentrated in Najaf and nearly Karbala, the country’s other holy Shiite city. There is a notable lack of Iranian visitors, as Najaf prepares to welcome pilgrims for numerous religious festivals this month.
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