Thousands of Iraqi pilgrims smuggled out of ISIS-controlled areas for hajj
Around 8,345 Iraqis who live in areas controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) were smuggled out in order to leave for the Saudi Arabia to perform hajj, Makkah daily, quoting the head of the Iraqi hajj delegation and the country’s under-secretary of hajj, reported.
The trip was risky and pilgrims put their lives on the line for the sake of performing the pilgrimage, Kamal Issawi said.
“Some of them marched through the Euphrates River in pitch-black darkness and had to walk over wood bridges to get to the other end while some were taken to remote areas then whisked away by military airplanes to Baghdad airport,” Issawi said.
It was an arduous task to get the Sunni pilgrims unscathed out of the areas with fierce clashes, he said.
Some pilgrims were transported to Kirkuk Governorate, north Iraq, which is currently under the control of Kurdistan, and were asked to stay inside mosques until they had been taken to Al-Sulaimaniya Airport, despite the fact Kurdistani authorities initially refused to transport them to the airport, he said.
“We didn’t lose hope and were determined to accomplish our task,” he said.
“We succeeded in convincing the Kurdistan authorities to help us,” he added.
During the era of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Malki, Mosul’s Sunni population was banned from performing hajj. However, the ban was later lifted.
This year there are 26,922 Iraqi pilgrims, 50 percent of whom come from Sunni and Kurdish areas.
They all arrived via Prince Mohammad Bin Abdulaziz Airport in Madinah. Issawi thanked Saudi authorities for all the facilities that were provided to Iraqi pilgrims.