More than two million Iranian pilgrims have crossed the border into Iraq for the annual Arbaeen Shiite pilgrimage to be celebrated on Thursday, an Iranian official said on state television.
“Some 2.32 million visas have been issued so far, and 2.2 million pilgrims are already in Iraq,” Shahriar Heydari, spokesman for the Iranian committee organising the pilgrimage to the holy city of Karbala, said on Wednesday.
Arbaeen marks the end of 40 days mourning by Shiites in memory of the seventh century martyrdom of the Imam Hussein.
Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, was killed in 680 during the Battle of Karbala, creating the first schism in Islam between Shiites and Sunnis.
Participation in Arbaeen from mainly Shiite Iran has spiked massively in recent years, with some two to three million Iranians among the 24 million pilgrims who attended last year.
For the past several days, state television in the Islamic republic has been broadcasting footage of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims heading on foot to Karbala, which is around 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Baghdad.