Is It Safe to Travel to Iraq?

Iraq has long been a historically and culturally rich location for world travelers. As part of the area known at one time as Mesopotamia, this region gave birth to the oldest civilization known to man (the Sumerians). Even with the destruction of many priceless artifacts and records, it still holds much interest to scholars and students of history. But it may still be many years before traveling to Iraq becomes as simple as visiting other great historical sites like Rome.

Just as the end of the war did not bring stability to the nation of Iraq, neither has the withdrawal of US troops. The citizens of Iraq are still living in a state of transition and chaos. Travelers from other countries are not exempt from the perils that face the country’s own residents. Weekly and sometimes daily demonstrations often end with injuries for participants. There is also an added hazard of kidnapping since Western tourists are viewed as valuable assets for ransom purposes or to further terrorism objectives.

Northern Iraq Not as Dangerous

However, according to the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office website, there is one area in Iraq where there are no travel restrictions. This is the Kurdistan region which includes the provinces of Dohuk, Erbil and Sulaimaniyah. Kurdistan comprises the northern portion of Iraq and shares borders with Syria, Turkey, and Iran. The border areas of Kurdistan are best avoided since relations between Turkey, Iran, and Iraq are strained, with some open acts of war still ongoing.

That being said, Kurdistan remains a popular tourist location. The region reported over 1 million tourists in 2011 (mostly Iraqis on holiday from other areas of the country). You can find a list of local attractions, information on food and customs, and the best ways to actually get in and out of the country here. One thing is for sure, you’ll come back with exciting stories to tell!

(Note: The label “No travel restrictions” doesn’t mean it’s particularly safe, just that you aren’t advised against avoiding the area entirely. You should still take all safety and security precautions. You can find a list of recommendations here).

Tags: Travel