16 reasons why you should and should not travel to Iraq right now
A lot of people who like travelling wonder: Where is Iraq? How to travel to Iraq? Is it safe to travel to Iraq? Located at the heart of the Middle East, Iraq is one of the most historically rich countries in the world. It borders Iran, Kuwait, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Turkey. Until today, we have learned from Iraq news that the country has been devasted by the Iraq War and the civil war. If you like risky adventures, then you can travel to Iraq. But before travelling, you also need to be aware of the Iraq travel warning. In this article, I will try to answer the following questions: why you should and should not travel to Iraq? Is it safe to travel to Iraq? First, let us explore why it is worth travelling to Iraq.
1. The rich history and cultural heritage
Today’s Iraqi territory was one of the birthplaces of the world’s oldest civilizations, such as Assyria and Babylonia. The country is full of rich archaeological sites. Besides, Iraq’s certain historical sites are included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. These UNESCO World Heritage Sites are Hatra, Ashur, Babylon, the Ahwar of Southern Iraq, Erbil Citadel, and Samarra Archaeological City.
2. Religious places
Iraq is one of the centres of Islam, visited by millions of foreigners, especially by Muslims every year. By travelling to Iraq, you will get a chance to see these holy places. The most visited city by pilgrims is Karbala. Other religious sites include Malwiya Mosque, Al Yassin Mosque, etc.
3. Hospitable people
For those who are wondering: where is Iraq? It is where friendly and hospitable people live. Iraqi people like chatting with foreigners, smiling back at them without reason. Many visitors say that they mostly enjoyed local people’s attitude in Iraq than anything else. Surprisingly, many of them can speak English, and talking to foreigners is an excellent chance for them to practice English. Many Iraqi people are happy to make new friends, and they would ask your social media accounts to keep in contact with you constantly.
4. Very low prices
Travelling to Iraq is one of the adventures that will not cost you a lot. These people are so hospitable that some of them may even offer you a small portion of their street food for free just to get good feedback from you. You can also easily bargain with local sellers, who are honest Muslims and will not overcharge you. Surprisingly, in this Muslim country, you can easily buy alcohol at a reasonable price.
5. Delicious food
Iraqi food is one of the delicious foods among the Middle Eastern nations. Iraqi cuisine is among the oldest cuisines, which is also later affected by Kurdish and Jewish cuisines. Famous local meals include Iraqi Biryani, Kubba, Masgouf, and so on.
6. Discovering places off the beaten path
Iraq has many places that are undiscovered for foreign tourists. Because not many people travel to Iraq, you can see many touristic sites that are completely different from what you may have imagined before. You will be one of the few people with photos in the cultural sites that are off the beaten path.
7. Just being able to say that you have visited Iraq
Visiting Iraq is something to boast about when you are among friends. Due to its volatile peace, the danger of terrorist attacks, very few people would dare to visit Iraq in your home country, especially if you live in a western country. Imagine telling your friends that you have been to Iraq while having a sip of your whiskey. That would be the coolest thing ever!
8. Doing volunteer work
You can also turn your visit to Iraq into one of the most rewarding experiences of your life by doing volunteer work. There dozens of organizations in Iraq working to improve local people’s lives. By joining this volunteer work, you can teach Iraqi children, say, English, give them gifts, clothes, and food.
Now let us look at the reasons that may make you abstain from visiting Iraq.
9. Fragile peace within the country
The country had been ruled by a dictator, Saddam Hussein, for 24 years until the Iraq War, which resulted in the USA’s occupation of Iraq in 2003. Then, the country experienced internal conflicts and civil war, which claimed many lives. Today, the situation is gradually getting better. However, one should bear in mind before visiting Iraq that the country is war-prone. The current peace can be fragile and somehow turn into violent conflict. It is important to note that some historical sites, such as Erbil Citadel, are located in the Kurdish autonomous region, which is a cause of internal conflict in Iraq. If you travel to Iraq, it is not possible for you to visit the Kurdish autonomous region.
10. Stressful visa process
Getting a visa for Iraq can be a stressful process. The visa process for Iraq is quite complex and time-consuming. Obtaining a travel visa to Iraq may take up to six months. Getting an individual tourist visa is the most difficult process. That is why it is recommended to apply for an Iraqi tourist visa in a group of at least five people. Even if you are able to secure a tourist visa, you will still be required to have an Iraqi government licensed guide. Also, you are required to stay in government-licensed hotels. In other words, no Couchsurfing or staying at local friends’ house for visitors with a tourist visa. One important note is that if you have an Israeli stamp in your passport, your application for a visa is likely to be rejected.
If you are wondering: How to travel to Iraq? The answer is dealing with bureaucracy. Visiting Iraq will expose you to experience lots of bureaucracy regarding getting a visa, travel permits, and overall, accommodation plans. First of all, you will need everything government licensed, including your guide, driver, and hotel. Secondly, travelling outside Baghdad requires you to obtain a permit. You will have to ask your guide beforehand to get these permits for you. Even if you manage to grab that permit, you will still need your guide to accompany you.
12. Difficult road travelling
Travelling by car around Baghdad can be time-consuming, as well as stressful. As evident per Iraq news, there are many checkpoints across Iraq. These checkpoints are controlled by Iraqi Shiite militias. Every time you arrive at a checkpoint, they check your documents. Even if there is the only a one-kilometre distance between two checkpoints, both will still check your papers. Sometimes, your guide may make a few phone calls to accelerate the process.
13. Vulnerable to terrorism
Another Iraq travel warning you should know before visiting this Middle Eastern country is the danger of terrorism. Even back in 2003, the invasion of Iraq by the USA was mostly based upon assumptions of Iraq’s support for terrorist organizations. As we see in the Iraq news, some few years ago, terrorist attacks and suicide bombers, especially by ISIS, were commonplace in Iraq. Recently, with the reduction of the US presence in Iraq, some news channels report nascent re-activation of ISIS. Besides, since the country was a war zone a few years ago, you should be aware of minefields. Although it is very unlikely that you will visit such an unmarked open field, there is still no harm in being cautious about it. Besides, you should not go out alone at night, since kidnappings may still be happening.
14. Female tourists should play by their rules
Is it safe to travel to Iraq for women? I would say it depends. I am sure most of you heard about the tragic murder case that happened in Morocco in 2018, where two Scandinavian female tourists were violently murdered by three Islamic State fanatics while camping. Similar Islamic State fanatics may be found in Iraq as well. So, it is not recommended for women to have a solo visit to Iraq. Also, even female tourists visiting in a group, let alone solo visitors, should wear conservative dresses to avoid any possible problems.
15. Distressing level of poverty
With a lot of internally displaced persons, Iraq has a high rate of poverty. If you are about to visit non-central areas in and outside Baghdad, you would see lots of people in misery and suffering. You may see a lot of child beggars around. So, by visiting non-central areas in Iraq, you may get negative vibes instead of positive ones.
16. COVID-19 restrictions
Another current Iraq travel warning is the spread of coronavirus. Iraq is one of the most affected countries by the virus. Lockdown and curfew are happening in most cities in the country. That is why you should avoid travelling to Iraq these days.
To sum up, with thousands of displaced persons, with the cases of kidnappings, with an average of one terrorist bombing per week, Iraq is one of the most dangerous countries to visit at the moment. But visiting Iraq can be one of the best adventures of your life and bravery to boast about. In this article, I tried to inform you about why it is worth travelling to Iraq, Iraq travel warning, negative results of the Iraq war, and I tried answering some questions: How to travel to Iraq? Where is Iraq?
Kamran was born in Ganja, one of the ancient cities of Azerbaijan. Since his childhood, he has had a special interest in photography and traveling. As a recent graduate majoring in International Relations, Kamran has a relish to learn more about worldwide culture, art, and history of other nations. He also has more than one and a half year of experience in hospitality and tourism industry in Azerbaijan. He is a participant of the Summer Work & Travel program sponsored by the U.S. government. Kamran currently studies Master of Sustainability at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada.