Thousands of Turkish pilgrims were finally allowed to pass through Iraq to Saudi Arabia on Sunday, days after their buses were turned back because they lacked visas issued by the central government.
Baghdad had on Thursday stopped 128 buses loaded with worshippers bound for Mecca on the annual hajj pilgrimage because their visas were issued by the autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq’s north.
Since then the Iraqi consulate at Gaziantep in southeastern Turkey has been working overtime to issue the relevant visas, according to Ali Mussawi, spokesman for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
He said that by Sunday, a total of 6,000 visas had been issued, and the travellers were already inside Iraq on their way to Mecca for the hajj.
“The Iraqi consulate in Gaziantep issued 4,000 visas in the past 24 hours alone,” Mussawi told AFP.
“The Iraqi government is ready to grant them all the facilities needed to make their trip to Saudi Arabia easier,” he added.
The buses had entered the country through a border post in the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq and were to have transited into Saudi Arabia through the Arar post in the southwest of the country.
The incident comes amid cooling ties between Baghdad and Ankara.
Turkey has refused to extradite Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi who has been sentenced to death in absentia and the two countries at odds over the conflict ravaging Syria.
Baghdad also protested against an August visit to Kirkuk in northern Iraq by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu without the central government being informed in advance.