At least eleven Iranian pilgrims on their way to Karbala in Iraq were killed in a road accident Sunday bringing the total casualties of the annual pilgrimage to at least twenty.

According to Iraqi authorities, the pilgrims and an Iraqi driver were killed on the road to the Shomali district in Babil Governorate in an accident involving a bus, a van and a truck. 

An official of the Iranian Red Crescent, Taher Doroudi, said the accident happened near a gas station and the van hit the truck after a gas canister in it exploded. A video posted on social media shows smoke rising from the burning vehicles in the desert. And people wailing and running away from the scene of the explosion.

Thirty others were injured in the accident and explosion, authorities said. "It's not possible to identify the victims of the pilgrims' bus because of severe burns," Doroudi said.

The hot weather also left tens of thousands of pilgrims dehydrated and in need of medical care. Iran’s Red Crescent Society said Friday that at least nine people had died and about 10,000 people were referred to healthcare stations with signs of heatstroke.

Millions of Iraqi Shias as well as pilgrims from countries including Iran, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia have already arrived or are on the way to the holy Shiite city of Karbala, located about 100 kilometers (62 miles) southwest of Baghdad Arbaeen ceremonies which will be held on September 17 this year.

It was estimated that between one and 1.5 million people crossed Iranian land and air borders into Iraq seven days before Arbaeen last year. “The figure stands at more than two million people this year,” Iran's State-run English-language Press TV channel said Sunday.

So far this year, the Tehran-supported pilgrimage to Karbala has been associated with confusion and chaos, lack of planning and proper facilities.

On Friday, Iraq and Iran closed land borders citing “worrying and serious dangerous incidents at two border crossings” as the reason but the influx of pilgrims from Iran was resumed later.

A commander of Iran-backed Shiite militia Hashd al-Shaabi, also known as Popular Mobilization Forces, claimed Saturday that the group thwarted a "terrorist plan to target the pilgrims in the city of Karbala." He did not provide any details about the attack or attackers.

In a statement published on his personal Twitter account Sunday, the leader of Iraq’s Sadrist movement, Muqtada Al-Sadr, urged Iraqis to show the highest degree of cooperation with security forces, especially in Karbala, and stressed that neither the pro-Iran Hashd al-Shaabi (People's Mobilization Forces (PMF)) nor Saraya al Salam (Peace Companies), a paramilitary group loyal to Sadr himself, should be entrusted with any security work on the ground or at checkpoints during Arbaeen ceremonies this year.

Sadr also forbade Iraqis from attacking or insulting foreign pilgrims, “Iranian brothers in particular”, “by hand, tongue, leaflets, or in any other way”.

Clashes between Pro-Sadr paramilitary and pro-Iranian Hash al-Shaabi in late August left at least 30 dead.

Social media reports say Iraqis are not as welcoming to Iranian pilgrims as in previous years, but Press TV said Saturday that Iraqis were “extending hearty and sincere welcome” to hundreds of thousands of Iranian pilgrims and that Iraqi people and state official were working to resolve the difficulties arising from lack of adequate transportation facilities to move and unprecedented high number of Iranian pilgrims from Iran’s western borders to Karbala.

“Iraqis have driven towards the border crossings with their own cars to solve the problem,” Press TV wrote.

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