Iran has officially opened a border crossing with Iraq for the first time since the U.S.-led invasion, allowing pilgrims to visit Muslim Shi'ite holy shrines.
Seventy-six pilgrims crossed the border opening in southern Iran Monday, becoming the first to do so legally since the fall of Saddam Hussein. They are expected to spend about a week in Iraq visiting shrines in Najaf and Karbala.
The officially sanctioned journeys resumed after news that nine religious travelers died during an illegal crossing attempt on Saturday. The Islamic Republic News Agency said they stepped on land mines left over from the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.
Officials said they opened the crossing near the Iranian city of Khorramshahr in an effort to curb illegal crossings. Thousands have attempted the crossing in the past five months, and about 200 have been killed.
Several Imams revered by the Shi'ite branch of Islam are buried in Iraq. Visiting their tombs is considered an essential religious duty.