Iran Sends Pilgrims Back To Haj in Test for Broader Dialogue

Iran Sends Pilgrims Back To Haj in Test for Broader Dialogue

Iranian pilgrims returned to haj this year for the first time since a deadly crush in 2015, in what could be an important confidence-building measure for dialogue on other thorny issues between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Nearly 800 people were killed, according to Riyadh, when two large groups of pilgrims arrived at a crossroads east of Mecca. Counts by countries of repatriated bodies showed over 2,000 people may have died, including more than 400 Iranians.

Iran's Supreme Leader has said his people would never forget that "catastrophe", but President Hassan Rouhani suggested a trouble-free haj this year could help build confidence in other areas of dispute between the arch-rivals.

So far, Iranian pilgrims say they are satisfied.

Relations between Shiq-led Iran and Sunni power Saudi Arabia are at their worst in years, with each accusing the other of subverting regional security and supporting opposite sides in conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

This year, Iran issued its nearly 90,000 pilgrims blue electronic bracelets to help organizers trace and identify them.

Dozens of Iranians clad in traditional white clothes and a distinctive red mark arrived in orange buses on Wednesday (August 30) at their encampment in Mount Arafat.

Pilgrims who spoke with Reuters, many with previous experience at the haj, say their facilities and treatment by the Saudi authorities are better than in past years and include air conditioned tents.

Iranians said the Saudi authorities had asked them not to hold a traditional Shia prayer in an open space in Medina, citing it as a potential target for Islamic State militants.