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Iraq Inundated With Religious Tourists

Shi'ite Muslims pray in Karbala, one of the holy cities that attracts religious tourists
BAGHDAD -- An Iraqi official says having so many tourists and so few hotels is a national embarrassment, as visitors are being sent to sports clubs for accommodation, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reports.

Iraqi Religious Tourism Director Jassim Abdul-Hussein Idan told RFI today that more than 150 travel agencies have sprung up since 2003, bringing thousands of religious tourists into the country every day.

He said some 4,000 Iranians enter Iraq daily to visit other holy sites in Baghdad, Al-Najaf, and Karbala.

Iraq and Iran signed an agreement in 2005 that predicted 1,500 Iranians would visit Iraq on a daily basis but, as Iraq's security improved, that figure has more than doubled.