Middle East

In “dangerous” lands: tourists are slowly returning to Iraq

American tourists are posing to spend their vacation in Iraq in front of the blue brick Ishtar Gate, which was rebuilt in the ancient ruins of Babylon under the dictator Saddam Hussein. Most foreigners here have been wearing military uniforms and carrying guns since Saddam was banished in the 2003 U.S.-led aggression, but more recently, pioneers of travel with cameras are slowly emerging. I did.

“Iraq was in my top three countries,” said a visitor to Babylon, 50-year-old California’s Ileana Ovalle, who was excited to see the ruins of Mesopotamia thousands of years ago. “This is the beginning of civilization,” said a passionate Globetrotter with about 40 countries under her belt. “I think too few people understand the importance of the region.” Most Western governments still issue travel warnings to all or part of Iraq, from kidnapping to jihadist bombings, and more than one. He points out the danger of unexploded ordnance due to war.

But for some explorers who aren’t afraid of strange military obstacles, Iraq is a hot new destination with multiple World Heritage sites that are slowly reopening to the world. Retirees and YouTubers are bravely confronting Iraq’s still basic tourism infrastructure to visit ancient ruins comparable to Egypt, Syria and Jordan with package tours and backpacks.

Scary travel warning

Whether in Baghdad or Mosul, the northern city that was the home of jihadistism, they can be seen walking down the streets that have left the scars of years of conflict. Blogs and Vlogs are skyrocketing with names such as “Americans in Baghdad, Iraq,” “Two Germans alone in Iraq,” and “Exploring Baghdad-how dangerous it is.”

The tourist mini-boom has gained momentum since Iraq began granting visas on arrival of dozens of nationalities a year ago. Ovalle said he was happy to join 14 other tourists on a trip organized by a travel agency that offers cultural, sports and adventure travel.

“The first thing I noticed was the warmth, generosity, and kindness of the Iraqi people,” she said. “They smile and welcome you. They are very polite.” Over 4,000 years ago, Babylon was filled with weeds and litter between old bricks. Not long ago, a nearby base contained the Allied forces of the United States and Poland.

“I think everyone is hesitant to come, especially from the United States,” said another visitor, 35-year-old New Yorker Justin Gonzalez.
“Going to our government website, they have travel recommendations:” Don’t travel to Iraq, it’s dangerous, you can be kidnapped, often there is violence. ” But I’ve never seen it and I don’t think it will happen. “

“Happy and generous”

Last year, Iraq attracted 107,000 tourists, including the United Kingdom, France, the United States, Turkey and Norway. That was more than three times the number of 30,000 in 2020, according to tourism agency data. Aside from tourists, hundreds of thousands of religious pilgrims, especially Shiite Muslims, mainly from Iran, gather annually in the shrine cities of Karbala and Najaf, south of Baghdad.

But elsewhere in Iraq, “Hotels and buses require infrastructure and private investment,” says Alial-Makhzoumi, owner of Bill Weekend Agency, which has 30-40 customers a month. Mr. says. There has been progress. The Baghdad National Museum was closed for three years and then reopened in early March, and the city’s famous bookstore street, Al Mutanabi, was renovated in December.

The birthplace of Abraham, Ur became widely known in 2021 when Pope Francis visited Iraq, attracting more Westerners. The government “approves visas on arrival, but everything else is still complicated,” she said. “Even with the necessary permits, half of the trip is wasted on obstacles,” she said.

Some visitors love a more edgy and authentic travel experience. “I like to go to places where there aren’t many tourists yet,” said 54-year-old Emma Witters, who has over 70,000 subscribers on her YouTube channel. After a lot of war and isolation, she said. “You would think they are unhappy and miserable people, but they are very happy and very generous to meet people and foreigners.” — AFP

https://www.kuwaittimes.com/in-a-dangerous-land-tourists-trickle-back-to-iraq/ In “dangerous” lands: tourists are slowly returning to Iraq

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