Iraq Sees Boom in Tourism– Exports Human Rights to Region

The Iraqi religious cities of Najaf and Karbala are seeing a boom in tourism.

Iraqi pilgrims march through Iskandariyah, 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Baghdad, Iraq, on their way to Karbala for Arbaeen, a major religious gathering , Monday, Feb. 25, 2008. Karbala is the burial site of Imam Hussein, one of Shiite Islam’s most revered figures, where ceremonies will culminate Wednesday to commemorate the end of the 40-day mourning period following the anniversary of his death. (AP Photo/Loay Hameed)

The following news was forwarded by Iraqi-American Haider Ajina on the good news from Iraq:

Iranian pilgrims flock to Iraqi shrines
By Ammar Imad
Azzaman, February 20, 2008 (Iraqi Sunni Paper)

The religious cities of Karbala and Najaf are prospering once again – thanks to the latest relative improvement in security and the visits by Iranian pilgrims. Both cities are relatively calmer than before and the highway to Iran safer. This has encouraged the countries to reinvigorate an old deal under which 3,000 Iranians could enter Iraq as part of package tours.

“Iranian pilgrims can only stay for 10 days and specifically in the religious cities of Najaf and Karbala,” said Abed Zahra, the spokesman for the Ministry of Tourism and Archaeology. Zahra said hotels, restaurants and shop keepers were doing “roaring business” in the two cities as they have to cater for tens of thousands of visitors every day.

Besides the package tours, many Iranians carry out visits on their own. Previously, the Iranians would pay homage to Shiite shrines in Baghdad and Samarra further north but both cities are not yet safe enough to allow for organized pilgrimage.

Zahra said the ministry was considering striking similar deals with other countries with sizeable Shiite minorities such Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon.

Haider Ajina Comments:

Ever since the liberation of Iraq (from Saddam and the Baathist regime) in the spring of 2003, Iraqis have enjoyed religious and personal freedoms, even though Alqaida in Iraq and certain fundamental religious groups have tried to impose their oppressive ways. The MNF and Iraqi forces have rebutted them and weakened these groups’ bite. Not only have Iraqis enjoyed these freedoms, but all who visit Iraq (mostly for religious pilgrimages) enjoyed those freedoms while visiting Iraq.

Many of those visitors return home (especially Iranians and Saudis) and realize that they have more rights and freedoms in Iraq than in their home country, especially the women. I believe that this type of influence, that of freedom, rule of law, and human rights, can only spread to Iraq’s neighbors, especially now that much of Iraq has calmed down and become more secure.

Evidence of this is: Kuwaiti women receiving the right to vote and run for office in municipal elections, stronger elected municipal councils in Jordan, Saudi municipal elections, demonstration in Ahwas, Iran demanding better conditions and more human rights, demonstration in Tehran and other Iranian large cities denouncing their president as a dictator, etc…

Over time Iraq will have a stronger influence on its region than the surrounding countries will have on it. Many Iraqis have tasted bitter oppression and bitter dictatorship (during the Baathist rule) and have tasted bitter religious intolerance (in areas which fell under Alqiada control). Having tasted these bitter times, it is very unlikely that they will return to a dictatorship or allow religious intolerance to spread and rule their country. Religious intolerance, especially, is rarely if ever been the hallmark of Iraqis.

Sincerely,
Haider Ajina

* * * * *
Haider also sends the news on the–
Hawr Rajab Women’s Committee Holds Inaugural Meeting

Second Lt. Cynthia Peters, 8th Cavalry Regiment’s women’s affairs representative, speaks with a curious participant during the first-ever Hawr Rajab Women’s Committee meeting Feb. 7. Photo by Sgt. Luis Delgadillo.

Haider Ajina comments:

Over sixty percent of those who voted in the general election in Iraq on December 15 2005 were women. Pictures of Iraqis walking in the streets, under threat of being killed by Alqiada and the Baathists, in the Sunni area especially, show that most of the voters were women. Iraq has more women than men in its population. This is due to the mass murders by the Baathists, the Iranian war, the Kuwaiti war and finally the liberation of Iraq in 2003. Women in Iraq have historically played a strong role in the work force of the country and of course have a very strong role in family life. Thus, it is no surprise to have strong participation and enthusiasm for the Hawr Rajab Women’s Committee. Iraq holds the second largest percentage of women elected to parliament in the world, and the Iraqi executive branch includes 6 female ministers.

Regards,
Haider Ajina

UPDATE: The North Shore Journal has more on this great progress HERE, HERE, and HERE.

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