Number of Iraqi Pilgrims to Mecca will Double
The Islamic Foundations Board of Iraq announced that it would double the number of Iraqis permitted to undertake the pilgrimage to Mecca this year. It is authorizing 50,000 pilgrims to go this year, as opposed to 25,000 last year under the Baath. The Board also removed the age restrictions on the pilgrims that Saddam had imposed. Iraqis of all ages will be eligible. A package is being offered, including travel, room, board and visa, for $500.
The pilgrimage will fall in late January this year. Although the movement of large numbers of people has raised security concerns for the US in Iraq, it seems a little unlikely that there will be much of a problem. It is hard to see how Iraq is a logical route for anyone else to Mecca in West Arabia, and the Iraqi contingent is relatively small and anyway made up of people who want to perform an innocent act of piety.
In fact, that Iraq is now a place where more and more people can practice their religion freely is good publicity, if the IGC and the Coalition know what to do with it.