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Iraq Searching for Solutions
Rare sanctuary for Iraqi pilgrims
Iraq's Shias find support in Iran despite US claims it is fomenting unrest.
Last Modified: 20 Mar 2008 10:20 GMT

The Mehdi family say they have settled easily
in the Iranian city of Qom
Al Jazeera's Alireza Ronaghi travels to Iran's holy city of Qom to speak to Iraqi refugees who have found sanctuary in a nation the US accuses of fomenting unrest in their home country.

The al-Mehdi family has had a tiring and long journey to Qom, the second holiest city in Iran.

Like many other Shia Iraqis, they had no hope of ever visiting holy Iranian sites while Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi president, was in power.

But now, three years after Saddam was ousted, they are finally here.

"We are very happy and comfortable here. We've settled in very easily," says Mehdi Joudie al-Mehdi.

Break from violence

The magnificent golden dome of the shrine's mosque overlooks a courtyard overflowing with faithful pilgrims.

If the hypocrites [Americans] withdrew, Iran would provide Iraq with roads, electricity and water - the two nations are one

Worshippers descend upon the shrine to pay homage to Masoumeh, the saintly sister of the eighth Shia Imam. Many of them take the journey in the hope of opening their souls to the healing touch of her divine spirit.

But for the Iraqis who visit Qom it is not just a place of worship, it provides a break from the violence in their own country.

"We love living in Iraq, but since there are no jobs and [there is] no fuel or electricity, we feel we have no choice but to run away," said Saohaila Ali Jasim, an Iraqi pilgrim.

The US blames Iran for much of the unrest in Iraq, but the ties between the two nations are growing stronger than ever.

The Iranian government offers cheap visas and free accommodation to Iraqis at special Islamic centres. It provides vital relief for people like Abdel Hossein Wadood, who is in Qom to seek medical assistance for his child.

"I left the hotels and came to live here [in the Islamic centre in Qom] because here I can live freely without money and we thank everybody here [for that]," he said.

Strong ties

For many others, Iran has literally become a home.

Hamid Shokoufian's family were forced to leave Iraq in 1970 when Saddam Hussein expelled thousands of Iraqis with Iranian origins.

He says even accusations from the US cannot damage the ties between the two countries.

"Iran is like a mother to the Iraqi nation. If the hypocrites [Americans] withdrew, Iran would provide Iraq with roads, electricity and water. The two nations are one," he said.

For those Iraqis on a short stay, their visit to Iran may not make their lives back home easier, but they take comfort from knowing that they have the support of their neighbours.

Source:
Al Jazeera
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