Saudis and Iraq bicker over Hajj visas

Saudi Arabia has accused Iraq's Shia-dominated government of distributing Hajj pilgrimage permits on a sectarian basis and exaggerating its population to gain more places at the annual rites, a Saudi official says.

    More than two million Muslims are expected to make the Hajj

    More than two million Muslims are gathering for the pilgrimage which begins on Sunday in Makka, the Muslim holy city in Saudi Arabia.
     
    "Saudi Arabia has, for the last two years, accepted Iraq's estimation of its population, although the figure is exaggerated," Saudi media on Saturday quoted an official from the ministry of pilgrimage affairs as saying.
     

    "The Iraqi pilgrimage authorities have not been able to distribute permits in a fair manner between the different groups of Iraqi pilgrims"

    A Saudi official from the ministry of pilgrimage affairs

    "The Iraqi pilgrimage authorities have not been able to distribute permits in a fair manner between the different groups of Iraqi pilgrims. All of this has been subject to social, regional and even sectarian considerations."
     
    The comments came after reports in the Arab media that Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the Iraqi prime minister, had accused the Saudi authorities of not allowing some Iraqi pilgrims into the country.
     
    Iraq's relations with neighbouring Arab states that are predominantly Sunni have been tense since the 2003 US-led invasion led to the Shia group coming to power.

    Saudi Arabia uses a system granting countries 1000 permits for every one million Muslims, but governments often complain they have been denied their full quota for political reasons.
     
    The official statement said Saudi Arabia has increased the quota of Iraqi pilgrims by 40% over the past two years.

    Aljazeera sought a reaction to the Saudi statements from officials in the Iraqi government, but they declined to comment citing their boycott of Aljazeera.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera + Agencies


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