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Why would anyone travel to Iraq?

It is certainly not for the monuments or a splendid nature. So what the hell am I doing in Iraq then?

sunny 40 °C
View Kurdistan Summer on askgudmundsen's travel map.

Forget the usual explanations that travellers normally give when they are heading into harm’s way: “The media exaggerate the situation“ or “it’s a domestic conflict, they don’t care about foreigners” or “most locals will rather help you than hurt you”.

The Kurdish Parliament

The Kurdish Parliament

While those explanations above are usually true, Iraq is not normally the place to travel to. Though the media probably do exaggerate the current situation just a bit and most locals are really nice people here. This lesson instead starts with a little bit of political geography. Because most of the surprise and chock I received when telling friends and family that I was heading to Iraq for my summer holiday was based on a fact: The lines of your world map lies.

Studying Global Studies I apologise if this gets too nerdy. For while the map above this blog entry, shows me to be in Iraq, I am really not. I am in the autonomous region of Kurdistan, and this is basically another country. While not recognised as an independent state Kurdistan does have its own president, its own parliament and their own ethnicity and languish. The Kurds speak Kurdish not Arabic, and they would definitely take offence if you call them Arabs. Kurdistan even has its own army, an army that is both better trained and more experienced than the regular Iraqi army. Years of fighting against Saddam and Assad (the Syrian president) as well as changing Turkish and Iranian governments have hardened the Kurdish Peshmerga into a formidable fighting force.

Erbil Citadel

Erbil Citadel

Just to show how different Iraq and Kurdistan actually are: the Kurds have their own visa regime. I would actually need another completely different visa to visit the ‘real’ Iraq (a fact that I am sure my parents celebrate as they read this). The visa I have instead proudly pronounces: Republic of Iraq – Kurdish Region.

Kurdish Bazaar

Kurdish Bazaar

So why would anyone actually travel to and around Kurdistan? First of all is Erbil (the regional capital) one of the best places to sit and sip in the shade of a citadel while watching old men play domino on the neighbouring tea bed, while youths and families hang out on the central square below. Other than good tea spots Kurdistan offers a change to get away from the crowds – almost nobody else visit the unknown travel destination. There are no tourists and no tourist’s infrastructure – Kurdistan is in many aspects untouched – so much that some locals I have talked to do not recognise the idea of tourism, but do understand the idea of a visitor or a guest. And the Kurds are famed for their hospitality – it will be seriously hard to avoid offers of lunch, dinner or a place to sleep depending on the time and places you visit.

Erbil Main Square

Erbil Main Square

More excitingly (and here I mean exciting in the morbid sense of the word) is there something trilling about Kurdistan’s location next to some of the World’s most troubled regions. Places close to the border can be dangerously close to the battleground and there is just something about having to ask ‘Is it safe?’ before going somewhere new. At least for romantics like me who longs for the old days were it was still possible to explorer the blanks of the world map. Back when one could join James Cook’s crew or ride with the Cossacks into Central Asia’s mountains.

The South Gate

The South Gate

Kurdistan truly feels like a new discovery – it is unspoiled, guests are welcomed with open arms and it still got some of the dangers of exploring; while one is actually in very safe surroundings as long as you follow the advice you are given.
And that is at least why I have ended up here, for the time being…

Posted by askgudmundsen 12:52 Archived in Iraq Tagged travel iraq kurdistan erbil arbil hawler peshmerga kurdish_independence

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Comments

Are there any major differences you can see between the Kurds and Arabs?
Are there any signs of fighting were you are? Heavy military presence?

by Brayden Love

Hey Brayden!!
Not that my untrained eye can see.. Different languish is there, but I can't tell the difference.. They have different national costumes, but most people wear plain western clothes...
Moving between towns there is a heavy military presence at the different check points... Especially towards the bigger cities.. But they mostly check that refugees are 'real' refugees and not ISIL members trying to sneak into sleeper cells or something like that...

by askgudmundsen

Hi! Me and a friend of mine (also female) have been takling about traveling to Iraq/Afghanistan/Iran, and my question is; where should we go? (Concerning safety). Thank you!

by Sophie

Hey Sophie (and friend)
Iran is definitely your best bet safety-wise.. The country is perfectly find to visit and one of the nicest destinations I've ever visited - besides common sense and modest clothing there aren't really any concerns.
The current situation in Iraq (Kurdistan that is, the rest of the country would be pretty suicidal to visit) can change very, very quickly! It is fine right now, but some of the border areas to the rest of Iraq as well as some sights are off limit.. The Kurdish news site Rudaw.net/english is very useful for up to date news.
Afghanistan is definitely not a destination I would recommend - very few places are safe to visit. Most of them are cities which you have to fly between... In those places the risk of kidnapping is the biggest concern, so keeping a low profile is necessary... That said it is possible, but I'm of the opinion that extensive experience with travelling in the Islamic world is necessary before taking on Afghanistan.. Both because of the need to keep a low profile and because it's a really conservative place and one can quickly get into trouble (unintentionally) if not careful..
Feel free to ask any further questions or roam around on the blog :)
Safe travels!

by askgudmundsen

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