Iraq becomes top foreign destination

Financial Tribune- Iraq was the top foreign destination of Iranians in the first half of the current Iranian year (started March 20), knocking Turkey down to second place, the tourism deputy at Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization said.

Speaking to Safar, a news website affiliated to Fars News Agency, Morteza Rahmani Movahed added that outbound tourism to the neighboring country, which borders Iran to the west, “increased by 37.9% compared with the same period of last year, reaching just over 1.1 million”.

The official noted that fewer Iranians traveled to Turkey in the first six months of the year, with the figure dropping by 12.5% to roughly 976,000.

Turkey had for years been the top foreign destination for Iranian tourists, but a recent string of terrorist attacks in the country has harmed the key tourism sector, discouraging many from visiting the Near East nation.

An assailant dressed as Santa Claus opened fire at a night club on Saturday in Istanbul, killing at least 39 people and wounding dozens. On December 10, 44 people were killed in a double bombing in Istanbul after a football match hosted by top side Besiktas. The attack on a police bus was claimed by the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons seen as a radical offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.

A week later, 14 Turkish soldiers were killed and dozens more wounded in a suicide car bombing blamed on Kurdish militants targeting off-duty conscripts also claimed by TAK.

In June, 47 people were killed in a triple suicide bombing and gun attack at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport, with authorities blaming Isis. Another 57 people, 34 of them children, were killed in August in a suicide attack by a bomber linked to the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group at a Kurdish wedding in the southeastern city of Gaziantep.

More than 200 people were killed as a result of a failed coup attempt by a faction of the country’s military in June who tried to topple the government, forcing Iranian officials to place a month-long ban on tours to Turkey.

Nevertheless, Turkey has managed to remain a favorite destination for Iranian travelers, and it may well have been able to cling to top spot had it not been for political developments that led to more Iranians flocking to Iraq.

Numbers to Increase

Accessibility, simplified visa regime and affordability of Iraq has made the Arab nation a popular destination for Iranian pilgrims and the country is expected to keep its position as the most visited country by Iranians this year.

Home to holy shrines revered by Shia pilgrims, Iraq is visited by hundreds of thousands of Iranians every year.

Following the death of 464 Iranian pilgrims during last year’s hajj rituals in Mina, near the holy city of Mecca, and the refusal of Saudi officials to offer safety guarantees, Iranian pilgrims found themselves unable to perform hajj in 2016.

As a result, more Iranians decided to make pilgrimage to the Shrine of Imam Hussein (PBUH), the third imam of Shias, in Karbala, Iraq.