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Iraq is to send 7,000 pilgrims to Makkah

BAGHDAD, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Iraq is to send 7,000 pilgrims to Makkah this
year in six batches, the official Iraqi News Agency said on Sunday.
 "The Ministry has expanded in accepting applications of those willing to pay
 pilgrimage this year to be approximately 7,000 pilgrims," the official Iraqi News
 Agency quoted Endowment & Religious Affairs Minister Abdul-Muneim Ahmed
 Saleh as saying.
 Saleh said the first convoy of pilgrims is to cross the border with Saudi Arabia
 on February 29. 
 He also said the ministry had sent a delegation to Saudi Arabia
 to make arrangements for their travel.
 Saleh travelled to Riyadh last November to discuss with Saudi officials
 the possibility of increasing the number of Iraqi pilgrims to Makkah.
 Saudi Arabia has set a quota for the number of people each Muslim state can
 send to Makkah for the Hajj pilgrimage based on their population.
 Saleh was quoted last November as saying his ministry had proposed to the
 Saudi authorities to increase the number of pilgrims this year from 4,000 to
 Every year millions of Muslims travel to Makkah to perform the Hajj,
 a religious duty for all who are able to make the journey.
 This year's Hajj season peaks in  March.
 Tension between the two Arab countries has risen in recent months after
 Baghdad charged that U.S. and British warplanes were using bases in the
 kingdom and in Kuwait to attack targets in a self-declared no-fly zone in
 southern Iraq.
 Riyadh played a leading role in a U.S.-led international coalition that drove
 Iraqi troops out of Kuwait in 1991.



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