While millions attend Hajj in the holy city of Mecca, Iranian pilgrims observed Arafat Day at the shrines of Imam Hussain, and his brother Abbas, in Iraq's holy Shia city of Karbala, after being denied access to Saudi Arabia's annual pilgrimage.

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Iranians pilgrim recite prayers as they sit outside the Imam Hussein and Imam Abbas shrines in KarbalaAlaa Al-Marjani/ Reuters

Iran said last May that its pilgrims would not attend Hajj, blaming rival Saudi Arabia for "sabotage" and failing to guarantee the safety of pilgrims. This comes after last year's crush in the Mina neighbourhood of Mecca, which resulted in the deaths of 2,000 people, the majority of whom were from Iran.

Iranian Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei criticised Saudi Arabia over the organisation of last year's Hajj. He said that Saudi authorities had "murdered" some of the pilgrims, and described Saudi rulers as godless and irreligious.

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Shia Muslim pilgrims, mostly from Iran, walk near the shrine of Imam Abbas on Arafah Day in KarbalaHaidar HamdaniI/ AFP
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Shia Muslim pilgrims gather in front of the shrine of Imam Hussein on Arafah Day in the holy city of KarbalaHaidar HamdaniI/ AFP
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Shia Muslim pilgrims gather in front of the shrine of Imam Hussein on Arafah Day in the holy city of KarbalaHaidar HamdaniI/ AFP
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Shia Muslim pilgrims, mostly from Iran, pray at the shrine of Imam Abbas on Arafah Day in KarbalaHaidar HamdaniI/ AFP

Relations between the two Gulf powers plummeted after the crush during last year's Hajj, resulting in Riyadh breaking ties when its Tehran embassy was stormed in January over the Saudi execution of a Shia cleric. Saudi Arabia accused Iran of seeking to politicise this holy pilgrimage, saying that Iran was compromising safety with its actions.

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Iranian pilgrims read prayers as they sit outside the Imam Hussein and Imam Abbas shrines in KarbalaAlaa Al-Marjani/ Reuters
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An Iranian Shia Muslim pilgrim prays in the holy Iraqi city of KarbalaHaidar HamdaniI/ AFP
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An Iranian pilgrim reads prayers as he stands outside the Imam Hussein and Imam Abbas shrines in KarbalaAlaa Al-Marjani/ Reuters
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An Iranian Shia Muslim pilgrim prays in the holy Iraqi city of Karbala on Arafah DayHaidar HamdaniI/ AFP
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Iranian pilgrims read prayers as they stand outside the Imam Hussein and Imam Abbas shrines in KarbalaAlaa Al-Marjani/ Reuters
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Shia Muslim pilgrims read religious texts on Arafah Day in the holy Iraqi city of KarbalaHaidar HamdaniI/ AFP

Iraqi officials said more than Iranian pilgrims who have entered Iraq from its central and southern border posts over the past three days.

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An Iranian Shia Muslim pilgrim shows her passport at the Iraq-Iran Shalamjah border crossing near the city of Basra, IraqHaidar Mohammed Ali/ AFP
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An Iraqi officer from the interior ministry inspects the documents of Iranian Shia Muslim pilgrims at the Iraq-Iran Shalamjah border crossing, near the city of Basra, IraqHaidar Mohammed Ali/ AFP
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An Iranian Shia Muslim pilgrim shows his passport at the Iraq-Iran Shalamjah border crossing, near the city of Basra, IraqHaidar Mohammed Ali/ AFP
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Iranian pilgrims pray as they gather outside the Imam Hussein and Imam Abbas shrines in KarbalaAlaa Al-Marjani/ Reuters
Kerbala
Iranian pilgrims pray as they stand outside the Imam Hussein and Imam Abbas shrines in KarbalaAlaa Al-Marjani/ Reuters
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Iranian pilgrims pray as they stand outside the Imam Hussein and Imam Abbas shrines in KerbalaAlaa Al-Marjani/ Reuters