The Iranian embassy in Iraq said that visas will be issued to Iraqi people free of charge starting from April 1, according to the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), reciprocating a similar decision recently issued by the Iraqi government.
According to an agreement reached during the Iranian president's visit to Iraq, the Iranian embassy and all consulates in Iraq will issue charge-free visas from April 1 to Iraqi citizens wishing to visit Iran.
On March 12, Iran's Vice President Ali Asghar Mounesan said that an agreement on visa system simplification was reached during the Iranian president's visit to Iraq.
Iraq and Iran have agreed to ease visa restrictions in an effort to boost investment and tourism, despite mounting US sanctions aimed at debilitating Tehran's financial alliances in the region, the National reported.
Tehran has increasingly cosied up to Baghdad, in search of its neighbor's support as it faces the Trump administration's embargo, following the US' decision to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
“Visas will be issued by both sides and will be free of charge to Iranian an Iraqi pilgrims and tourists as of April,” Rouhani’s office announced earlier in March.
Millions of Iranian pilgrims travel to Iraq every year to visit the southern city of Karbala for the annual pilgrimage of Arbaeen, which marks the end of a 40-day mourning period for the third Shiite Imam, Hussein.
More than 80% of foreign visitors to Najaf are from Iran. But since the imposition of US sanctions the number of people travelling from Iran fell by 30 per cent in the first nine months of 2018, to 5.9 million, according to Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicraft and Tourism Organisation.
Iran needs Iraq today more than ever. With the US tightening the screws on Tehran, Iraq becomes an ever more valuable economic lifeline, Fanar Haddad, Senior Research Fellow at the Middle East Institute, said.
“The visit fits in with Iraq’s broader foreign policy of strengthening relations with all regional powers. From Iraq’s point of view strengthening bilateral relations with Iran on the one hand and Iraq’s relations with the US on the other are not mutually exclusive – rather, it is a compulsory balancing act,” Mr Haddad said.