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Iraq Tourism

Are you brave enough to holiday in post-war Iraq?

Nov 04, 2009

There is sun, sand and plenty of fascinating sites to see. But Iraq is probably not top of most people's lists when planning a relaxing holiday.
However, officials from the country's tourist board believe the time has come to lure more visitors to sample its unique charms.

Next week a team from the board, led by its chairman Hammoud al-Yaqoubi, is due to attend the World Travel Market exhibition in London. It will be the first time in more than a decade that such a visitation has been made to a travel trade event in Europe.

They will focus on how Iraq - known as the birthplace of civilisation - boasts some of the finest archaeological sites in the world and some of the holiest places in Islam.

The only European travel company currently offering tours of Iraq is Hinterland Travel, based in Brighouse, west Yorkshire.

They did a post-war tour of Iraq (or Mesopotamia, as they prefer to call it in their on-line brochure) in 2003 but were then forced to stop from 2004 to 2008 as they were unable to guarantee travel around the country and access to the sites.

This year, however, they resumed operations and have taken a total of around 50 people on four separate tours.

They offer a 17-day tour taking in the war-scarred capital Baghdad, and Basra, the scene of some of the heaviest fighting in the 2003 invasion.
The trip, costing £2,260 plus international flights, also includes Ur, believed to be the birthplace of the prophet Abraham; Babylon, once the greatest city on earth; and Samarra, famous for its golden domed al-Askari shrine - and also for being in the so-called 'Sunni Triangle' where insurgents have been rife.

The firm's website states: 'Obviously there is the utmost interest in the most recent events and we shall do our best to see what is available, such as any Saddam Palace vacant of troops and the events around Tikrit [where Saddam Hussein went on the run after the fall of Baghdad].

'Hotels have been badly treated by all concerned so our tour will be very varied in the quality of hotels that we can use. This state of affairs will improve.

Until there is a completely stable situation everywhere in Iraq our schedule will be subject to changes in order of visiting places and sometimes having to omit sites.'

Each tour is led by a Hinterland tour leader and an English speaking Iraqi guide. Transport is by air-conditioned minibus and 'armed guards are provided only when the local situation has demanded it,' the website says.

Today, the firm's managing director Geoff Hann, who has run tours to Iraq for over thirty years, said: 'We keep out of the way and don't attract attention, that's the safest way to travel anywhere.
'We specialise in history and archaeology. Tourism is in its infancy after the problems of recent years, but the sites are worth seeing and this really is where civilisation began.'

Iraq was a hugely popular holiday destination for visitors from countries such as Japan, France and Germany as well as the UK before Saddam Hussein went to war with Iran in 1980.

World Travel Market chairman Fiona Jeffery said Iraq has the 'potential to become a viable tourism destination' again just like other former war zones such as Vietnam, Cambodia and Croatia.

But it may be quite some time before that happens. Britons are currently advised by the Foreign Office - because of the high threat of terrorism and risk of kidnapping - not to visit Iraq, with the exception of a handful of provinces, and only then if the trip is essential.


Historic and now war-scarred capital on the banks of the River Tigris. Aerial assaults during Gulf War 1991 and the 2003 invasion of Iraq caused massive damage to infrastructure. Has regularly been the subject of suicide bomb attacks since 2003, killing thousands of Iraqis as well as American troops.

Said to be location of Sumer, the home of Sinbad the Sailor, and possible venue of the Garden of Eden. First stop for US and UK troops during 2003 invasion. After the war British forces were based in the country's second largest city. Earlier this year British forces handed control of Basra to the Americans. 179 British servicemen and women killed in conflict in Iraq since 2003.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to many Shi'a holy sites. In the so-called 'Sunni Triangle' where insurgents have been active.

One of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, dating back to 23rd century BC. US Special Forces task force head-quartered just outside during 2003 invasion.

Once the greatest city on earth. US troops were accused of harming artefacts when they built a base at the site.

Are you brave enough to holiday in post-war Iraq?
The citadel of Erbil / Image via


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