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Iraq

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Iraq (Arabic: ?????? Al-Ir?q) is a republic in the Middle East, north-west of of the Persian Gulf. It borders Iran to the east, Kuwait to the south, Saudi Arabia to the southwest, Jordan to the west, Syria to the northwest, and Turkey to the north.

While Iraq contains ancient Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization, it has been ravaged by war and oppression for the last century.

Regions

Cities

  • Baghdad (?????)
  • Arbil (?????)
  • Ar Rutba (??????)
  • Basra (???????)
  • Dahuk (????)
  • Fallujah (????????)
  • Karbala (??????)
  • Kirkuk (?????)
  • Mosul (????)
  • Sulaimaniyah (???????)

Other destinations

  • Ashur — former capital of the Assyrian Empire and UNESCO World Heritage site, this is one of the country's few great archaeological sites that has benefited from the latest invasion—the Hussein government planned to create a dam nearby that would have flooded and utterly destroyed the site.
  • Babylon (????) — damaged by inept reconstruction, looting, and military negligence, the ruins of ancient Babylon are still some of the most impressive in the Cradle of Civilization.
  • Ctesiphon — the ancient capital of the Parthian and Sassanid Empires left us with magnificent, towering ruins, most notably of the magnificent Arch of Ctesiphon; just across the Tigris is the archaeological site of the ancient Hellenistic city of Seleucia.
  • Hatra — once a UNESCO World Heritage site, this formerly well-preserved Parthian city off in the desert contained quite possibly Iraq's most magnificent ruins, which were severely damaged or destroyed by Da'esh extremists in 2015.
  • Nineveh (?????) — a 3,000 year old city and one time capital of Assyria, whose partially reconstructed ruins and archaeological site lies across the Tigris from Mosul.
  • Ur (???) — the ruins of the ancient Sumerian city, best known for its giant step pyramid, the Great Ziggurat of Ur.

Understand

History

See also: Ancient Mesopotamia

Iraq is the birthplace of many of the Earth's oldest civilizations, including the Sumerians, Akkadians, Assyrians and Babylonians. A part of the Persian Empire from the 6th century BCE, the Caliphates between the 7th and 13th centuries and the Ottoman Empire from 1534, the Treaty of Sèvres brought the area under British control in 1918. Iraq gained independence in 1932. On 14 July 1958, the long-time Hashamite monarchy was overthrown in a coup led by Abdul Kassem that paved way to radical political reforms, including the legalisation of political parties such as the Ba'ath and the Communist Party, both key players in the coup (also called the 14 July Revolution). Following the Revolution, the Soviet Union gradually became its main arms and commercial supplier.

In February 1963, Kassem was overthrown and killed in a second coup that brought the Ba'ath Party into power. Internal divisions would follow for the next five years, until another coup on 17 July 1968 led by Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr (with Communist support) stabilised the party. Relations between the Communists and the Ba'athists ranged from mutual cooperation to violent mistrust, culminating in the purge of Communists from the army and the government by 1978, causing a temporary rift with the Soviet Union. On 16 July 1979, Bakr resigned and was succeeded by right-hand man Saddam Hussein, who carefully purged his enemies and became a dictator almost overnight.

The next twenty-five years took a grinding toll on the country. A long war with neighbouring Iran in the 1980s cost hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of dollars. The invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and subsequent Gulf War caused further casualties, followed by civil war inside the country and a decade of international sanctions.

Iraq was invaded in 2003 by a US/UK-led coalition of forces, who removed Saddam Hussein from power, destroyed most of the country's infrastructure in bombings and missile strikes, and triggered intercommunal violence that resulted in millions of Iraqis fleeing into exile and many more internally displaced within the country. As of 2012, no foreign troops remained in Iraq; however, the United States has sent advisors back into Iraq in 2014 at the request of the Iraqi government, and others are based in Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. This is in connection with the fight against the "Islamic State" organization, which earlier in 2014 quickly captured large areas of Iraq and Syria primarily inhabited by Sunni Arabs, and proceeded to conduct wholesale murders of non-Sunni boys and men and enslavements of non-Sunni women and girls who fell under their power. An American-led coalition has been bombing targets of the organization, also known as "ISIL" for "Islamic State in the Levant", in support of Kurdish and Iraqi armed forces fighting them.

Geography

Iraq mainly consists of desert, but near the two major rivers (Euphrates and Tigris) are fertile alluvial plains, as the rivers carry about 60,000,000m³ (78,477,037 cu yd) of silt annually to the delta. The north of the country is mostly composed of mountains; the highest point being at 3,611m (11,847 ft) point, unnamed on the map opposite, but known locally as Cheekah Dar (black tent). Iraq has a small coastline measuring 58km (36 mi) along the Persian Gulf.

Climate

Most of Iraq has a hot arid climate. Summer temperatures average above 40°C (104°F) for most of the country and frequently exceed 48°C(118°F). Winter temperatures infrequently exceed 21°C (70°F) with maximums roughly 15 to 16°C (59 to 61°F) and night-time lows occasionally below freezing. Typically precipitation is low, most places receive less than 250mm (10 in) annually, with maximum rainfall during the months of November to April. Rainfall during the summer is extremely rare except in the very north of the country.

People

Before the large-scale murders by the "Islamic State" organization and flight from Iraq of members of non-Muslim minorities (especially Yazidis and Christians), Arabs who are 65% Shia and 35% Sunni Muslim comprised 75%-80% of the major population of Iraq. 15% of Iraq's population was comprised of Kurds (including Yazidis and Shabaks), Turkmen and Assyrians. Over around 20,000 Marsh Arabs live in southern Iraq. Indigenous Neo Aramaic speaking Assyrians, most of whom are adherents of the Chaldean Catholic Church, Assyrian Church of the East, Assyrian Pentecostal Church and Syriac Orthodox Church accounted for 10% of the Christian population. It is hard to be sure what current figures would be.

Holidays

  • New Year's Day (January 1)
  • Armed Forces Day (January 6)
  • Nowruz (March 21)
  • Baghdad Liberation Day (April 9)
  • Ramadan (various)-Islamic religious observances
  • Republic Day (July 14)
  • Ashura (variable) Islamic religious observance
  • Independence Day (October 3)
  • Christmas (December 25)

Get in

All visitors to Iraq require a visa for entry. Contract and military personnel working for the U.S. Department of Defense are exempt from this visa policy, as long as they present a valid Common Access Card (CAC card) issued by the Department of Defense. This only holds true if you are flying into the military side of BIAP by Gryphon Air or on a military flight. If you fly into Baghdad International without an entry or working visa you will be deported.

For those entering the country without a visa, one can be purchased at most border crossings for USD80. Total crossing time is around 1 hour for individuals. If you intend to acquire a visa at your port of entry, be prepared for long waits, and bring plenty of documentation about who you are and what your business in Iraq is. Letters on company or government letterhead are preferred.

Obtaining a travel visa to Iraq is complicated and time consuming. You can obtain an application at the local Embassy of Iraq [1]. However, all applications are vetted in Baghdad. Even if you do obtain a visa, you may still be refused entry into Iraq once you arrive. Visas can be acquired in advance at the Iraqi embassies in London, Paris, and Washington, D.C.

By plane

Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) (IATA: BGW) is about 16km from the centre of Baghdad. After some damage during the wars, the airport is in full operation and growing due to the recovery of Iraq.

The national airline is Iraqi Airways that operates a fleet of 15 jets. Their main activity are domestic flights but Iraqi Airways also offers flights to London and Stockholm as well as to some airports in the Middle East and South Asia.

The best way from Europe to Baghdad is either with Austrian or Turkish Airlines. Austrian Airlines provides four flights per week from Vienna (IATA: VIE) to BIAP. Turkish Airlines flies daily from Istanbul (IATA: IST) to BIAP.

Within the Middle East, Royal Jordanian Airlines operates two daily roundtrip flights from Amman(IATA: AMM). Emirates and the low-cost carrier flydubai from Dubai arrive on a daily basis in Baghdad.

The best connected and safest airport is the Erbil International Airport [2]. Flights into Iraqi Kurdistan are offered by most European and Middle East carriers like Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, Royal Jordanian and Etihad. Iraqi Kurdistan has seen enormous growth and investment since 2003 due to being safer than the rest of Iraq and is the business hub for the region.

Diplomats, private military contractors, and intelligence agents can use Gryphon Airlines. Gryphon offers flights between the military side of BIAP and Kuwait City.

Additional Services to the city of Van, Turkey are offered by Turkish airlines from most western cities via Istanbul, from here a taxi will take you to the border for the equivalent of USD35-200 depending on your bargaining skills (Turkish drivers will only usually accept Lira, euros or pounds sterling)

For those working for Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in Iraq, there are two charter airlines operating into BIAP. Skylink and AirServ operate frequent flights. Travel on either of these services requires sponsorship by your NGO to get you onto an approved traveller list maintained by each. Schedules and services can be irregular, and change frequently.

The airport is under control of the Iraqi government. Take-offs and landings at BIAP are controlled by the Iraqi Ministry of Transportation. Several critical pieces of Air Traffic Control gear have not been turned on, and the result of this is that BIAP can only accommodate Visual Flight Rule (VFR) landings, not instrument landings. Because of this, the frequent sandstorms that hit the area can obscure visibility and cause flights to be turned away. It is not unusual for commercial flights to make it all the way to BIAP, and then turn around and return to their origin due to limited visibility on the runway. To protect against the extreme danger of ground-based attacks, incoming civilian flights descend from cruising altitudes in a tight spiral within protected BIAP airspace.

When departing at BIAP, be prepared for long, disorderly, and excessively slow lines wherever you go. If you are not working in Iraq on a government contract, your entrance to the airport grounds about three or four miles from the airport terminal will require you and your vehicle to wait in line to be searched. These security checkpoints can take from two to three hours to process through. The best strategy is to find accommodations somewhere within the BIAP area of control on the day prior to your flight so that you aren't subjected to the long wait and end up missing your flight.

All airlines operating services at BIAP have a 100% bag matching policy. All bags, whether carry-ons or checked luggage, are lined up on the tarmac next to the aircraft. Each individual passenger must physically touch and claim their bags before a baggage handler and security personnel will match it and then load it into the hold. Any bags left on the tarmac after the boarding process is complete are not loaded and are taken away from the terminal area to a secure facility for disposal.

By train

The classic way of reaching Iraq was by the Taurus Express train from Istanbul, featured in the novel Murder on the Orient Express. However, since 2003 there have been no regular international passenger trains to Iraq and its unlikely there will be any in the near future. For travelers to the southern city of Basra, an alternative might be to travel to the nearby border city of Khorramshahr, which sees daily trains from several cities in Iran, and then continue by taxi the last few kilometers.

By car

Cars can be the most dangerous method of travel into the country. On reaching the border it is advisable to leave your taxi/rental car, for an armoured 4x4, these are available for hire, with an armed guard if required, from the British security company GENRIC for GBP300 (USD460) approx.

From Turkey

Driving in from Turkey is the best method of entry into the Northern part of the country. This area of the country is relatively safe, at least compared to the rest of the country. Border police and locals will advise you which cities are safe to travel in (Zakho, Dohuk, Erbil, As-Sulaymaniyah etc.), and will warn you away from specific cities (such as Mosul or Baghdad).

From Diyarbakir, Turkey you will drive south east to Zakho, Iraq. It is possible to take a previously arranged taxi, the average cost of this taxi ride is USD150 and most of the drivers only speak Kurdish or Arabic. You will often switch taxis in Silopi about five minutes from the Iraqi border, or you will change cars about 70km from the border and continue on from there. The taxi driver will then take care of all your paperwork at the border. This involves your driver running from building to building getting paperwork stamped and approved. You must have a photocopy of your passport for the Turkish section of the border, which they require that you leave with them (the photocopy, not your passport).

A much less expensive option is to take a bus from Diyarbakir directly to Silopi. This won't cost more than about TRY20. From the Silopi otogar (bus station), it's easy to get a taxi to Zakho. A good taxi driver can handle all of the photocopying and paperwork for the Turkish side.

At this point you will finish driving across the border crossing into Iraq. Your taxi driver will then take you to the Iraqi immigration and customs section. All persons and vehicles entering Iraq must be searched for contraband by the customs officers, and their vehicles are registered and pay some sort of stamp tax, however, occasionally, searches are not conducted. Without this stamp tax, it is illegal for a non-Iraqi vehicle to purchase gas at any of the state-run gas stations all over the country. After paying any import duties to customs and receiving the vehicle stamp, the immigration officers will check your passport and stamp it if you have a visa. Additionally, at some land border crossings, your fingerprint and/or photo will be taken. As of July 2008, there was no visa fee at this border crossing.

At this point, you will be at the border taxi stand, a few kilometres outside of the city of Zakho, and may need to hire another taxi to get to Zakho's city centre (IQD5,000-10,000). For the taxi ride from the Turkish city where you changed cars to Zakho, it's about USD40. This is a safe place to meet your friends or to charter a taxi into another part of the country. Enjoy some tea while waiting.

From Jordan

For land crossings from Jordan, be prepared for a long ride. The trip through the eastern Jordanian desert is much like a moonscape. The journey from Amman to Baghdad can take anywhere from 10-15 hours. You will depart Amman between 05:00 and 10:00, and arrive at the border crossing about four hours later. The border crossing can take anywhere from an hour and a half (on a very good day) to more than five or six hours. Entering Iraq usually takes about half as much time as leaving Iraq. The Jordanian immigration and customs officers are very finicky about whom they will let in, and they will often shut their side of the border and not allow anyone to enter for unspecified reasons.

The trip from the border to Baghdad is very dangerous. The route is full of highway bandits and gangs of thieves that prey upon unprotected travellers. Travelling this route without adequate communications gear or weapons of any kind is strongly discouraged. Do not make any stops along this route, if traffic becomes stalled for any reason on the highway (other than a possible IED), then it is best to make circles until traffic flows again. Vehicles, especially those that may be occupied by westerners, are subject to attack at any time. Carry extra fuel and plenty of food.

From Kuwait

Travelling from the Kuwaiti border is just as difficult as crossing from Jordan. The Kuwaiti crossing is complicated even more by the fact that Kuwaiti immigration and customs officers are even more strict than the Jordanians and anything at all can cause them to arbitrarily block your entry or exit. Sneaking into a military convoy is not advised as your vehicle might be mistaken for a suicide attacker by the turret gunners in the convoy.

Reliable but inconspicuous transportation is a must in Iraq. It is probably best to buy a vehicle that blends in with the other cars on the road. Toyota, Hyundai and Kia, along with less familiar Eastern European and Asian brands are common. BMWs and Mercedes are also seen in Iraq but are less common, especially nice ones, which usually have the steering wheel on the right side.

By bus

It is possible to enter Iraq from Jordan by taking a bus from Amman, JETT is the only company to offer online booking. Other countries may have bus service to Iraq. Third party nationals can also gain entry into Iraq for work purposes; these buses usually depart from Kuwait.

Get around

  • In Kurdistan, public transport is rare although regular buses do link Zakho and Dohuk and cost about USD2. From Dohuk, shared taxis leave all day for Erbil and other cities. The road from Dohuk to Arbil goes south near Mosul, but does not leave Kurdish territory and is thus safe, although perhaps too close for comfort.
  • Shared taxis might be the safest way to travel in Iraqi Kurdistan, as the drivers are not interested in leaving the province either.

By car

Driving at night may be a safer alternative to daytime driving, but a few rules to follow:

  • Avoid city centres. Although most Iraqis are asleep by midnight, the few that are awake are almost certainly up to no good.
  • Watch for the military. If you are out late at night and effectively trying to blend in with the locals, you could be mistaken for a hostile/troublemaker. At checkpoints, you will also be treated as a suspect, and until they decide you are not a target, you must conduct yourself carefully.
  • If you do encounter the military, ensure your lights are on, turn on your hazards/flashers, slow or pull over to the side of the road and follow any and all instructions given. If a stop sign, green laser, or any other signal is directed at you or in your general direction it is advisable to follow it, better to err on the side of caution than get shot at.
  • For those travelling to Iraq and make friends along the way, be extremely cautious if they offer you a ride. When accepting the offer, make sure they are not leaving Iraqi Kurdistan province.

By train

An overnight train links Baghdad with the southern city of Basra, taking just over 12 hours for the journey. This is the only daily service in the whole country. There are irregular services from Baghdad and Basra to the holy city of Karbala, especially during religious festivals. Train travel is considered relatively safe, mainly due to the extensive security checks all passengers have to go through before boarding the train.

All trains are run by Iraqi Republic Railways IRR. Tickets can only be bought at stations.

Talk

Arabic is the national language of Iraq, but English is so commonly spoken there that most travellers will get by in the various shops, markets and cafes. The downside is that speaking English will immediately identify you as an outsider. This is dangerous because of the strong underground network of Iraqis who inform attackers of possible target opportunities.

Kurdish is spoken in the Kurdistan region, in one of two varieties: Kurmanji and Sorani. Kurmanji is spoken in and around Dohuk while Sorani is spoken in and around Arbil (Hewlar) and Sulaymaniyah. These two varieties are mutually unintelligible. However, Arabic is also widely spoken, and the number of speakers of English is on the rise.

See

The past 40 years of disastrous government and devastating wars has taken its toll on Iraq's travel industry. After the fall of the Saddam Hussein government, which was virulently hostile to the Shia religion, religious pilgrims, mostly from the Middle East, Iran, and Central Asia, have returned in large numbers to the holy sites of southern Iraq, especially to the spiritual home of Shia Islam in Karbala. Religious pilgrimage remains quite unsafe, but there is a greater degree of safety in numbers, and in being familiar with the Arab region. And of course, pilgrimage is a more urgent reason for travel than sightseeing!

One can only hope that this great and ancient region soon sees increased security and stability, for it makes a fascinating travel destination for anyone interested in history, be it in ancient history 4,000 years old, medieval Islamic and later Ottoman history, or the modern history of the early 21st century. The aforementioned conflicts and misgovernment have not been kind to Iraq's ruins, especially in terms of the massive rebuilding done on ancient Babylon by the Hussein government and later negligence by foreign military presence. But the pull of such ancient cities as the Babylonian capital Babylon; the ancient city of Ur, of mankind's first great civilizations, Sumeria; major Parthian cities at magnificent Hatra and the capital Ctesiphon; and the Assyrian capital of Ashur, remains great enough to overlook the damage done.

The holiest sites of Shia Islam outside of Saudi Arabia are in Iraq's fertile heartland of Lower Mesopotamia. The Shia-Sunni split in Islam occurred over a dispute in the mid-seventh century C.E. as to the true successor of the Prophet Muhammad, with the Shiites supporting Ali ibn Abi Talib, who would become the first Imam, and whose Caliphate capital was located in the medieval city of Kufa. Ali's tomb is found in present day Najaf at the Imam Ali Mosque, one of Shia Islam's most holy sites. The third Imam, grandson of the Prophet, Husayn ibn Ali, is widely revered as one of Shia Islam's greatest martyrs, and the two grand mosques of Karbala, Al Abbas Mosque and Imam Husayn Shrine (which stands on his grave) are the sites of the Shiites' most important pilgrimage, to observe the Ashura, the day of mourning for Imam Husayn. Samarra is home to another one of the most important Shia mosques, Al-Askari Mosque, which serves as the tomb of Imams 'Ali al-Hadi and Hassan al-'Askari. Tragically, this mosque is badly damaged, suffering explosions in sectarian violence in 2006, destroying the dome, minarets, and clock tower. Lastly, Al-Kadhimiya Mosque in Kadhimiya is revered, as it is the burial place of the seventh and ninth Imams, Musa al-Kadhim and Muhammad at-Taqi. Also buried within this mosque are the famous historical scholars, Shaykh Mufid and Shaykh Nasir ad-Din Tusi. Iraq is also home to significant holy sites of Sunni Islam, especially Baghdad's Abu Hanifa Mosque, built around the tomb of Abu Hanifah an-Nu'man, the founder of the ?anaf? school of Islamic religious jurisprudence.

In terms of modern attractions, most are the big modernist sculptures and palaces of the Saddam Hussein government, located primarily in Baghdad (or on top of some of the world's most important heritage sites...). Given the warfare, external and internal, and government atrocities committed against its own people over the past 40 years, one can only expect that the future will see widespread construction of memorials to those who suffered. But such developments may have to wait until the nation's turbulent present settles down. In the meantime, it is possible (albeit often dangerous) to visit the cities and sites of battles that have become household names throughout the world in the most recent conflict.

Do

Buy

Money

Iraqi currency is the Iraqi dinar, denoted by the symbol "?.?" (ISO code: IQD). Banknotes are issued in 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, 25,000, 50,000 dinars denominations. Coins, and banknotes in 250 and 500-dinar denominations are rarely used.

While the dinar is the official currency, you will also be able to spend euros (€) and US dollars (USD) in many places. Most people do not like to make change for large banknotes. Any defects in the bills (creases, ink stamps from banks, tears, etc.) will raise suspicion that you are a counterfeiter. Don't bring old bills with you, either. Carry mostly small bills in the form of Iraqi dinars for daily spending cash.

Since the introduction of the new Iraqi dinar, its widespread acceptance and confidence has reduced the prominence of the US dollar, and many shopkeepers are now refusing to accept them. However, most people will still pay large hotel bills or rent payments using US dollars or euro due to the sheer volume of notes required to pay with dinars. The conversion rate fluctuates from day to day and from town to town. Inflation used to be relative high (65% a year since 2003) but it is now much lower than before (11% in 2008).

Learn the security features of the new dinar and US dollar notes; the former Iraqi government was known to be making passable USD20, USD10, and USD5 bills, and these counterfeiters are apparently still in business.

Eat

See also: Middle Eastern cuisine
  • Masgouf- Considered as the national dish of Iraq. It is an open cut freshwater fish roasted for hours after being marinated with olive oil, salt, curcuma and tamarind while keeping the skin on. Traditional garnishes for the masgouf include lime, chopped onions and tomatoes, and flatbread.
  • Tepsi Baytinijan Also very popular dish in Iraq. A baked casserole typically consisting of meatballs, aubergine, tomatoes, garlic, onions, and potatoes.

Drink

Alcohol is legal in Iraq and street vendors can usually get alcohol if you really need it, but again this is just asking to be identified as an outsider. Furthermore, while alcohol is legal many insurgent groups in Iraq have targeted alcohol vendors and users.

Sleep

Sleep in the hot summer months can be difficult. Sleeping outside and near flowing water is the most comfortable setting one can find outside of air conditioning.

In Iraqi Kurdistan, there are plenty of hotels and although they are hard to find in any travel guide, anyone on the street will direct you to a nearby place. There's no shortage in Zakho, Dohuk or Arbil. Rates run about USD15-25 per night for a single room with bathroom.

Work

Work in Iraq pays very well. Typical foreign contractors can make up to USD100k per year for security and administrative work.

Stay safe

After the war was declared over on December 2011, the political situation is very unstable. In May 2013, a series of deadly bombings and shootings happened. In December 2013, clashes in Anbar occurred. In January 2014, the control of Fallujah is divided between the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Sunni anti-government tribal militias.

Iraq is beset with numerous problems that make travelling risky and difficult. The security situation is perilous in just about any area of the country, and continues to deteriorate under continuing terrorist attacks. Resistance to continuing military occupation, U.S. and UK forces, and Iraqi military, police or anyone associated with the Iraqi government, as well as increasing factional and sectarian conflict make street warfare, bombings, and other acts of armed violence daily occurrences.

The central third of the country is the most volatile; the southern ports are less dangerous, but only relatively so. However, northern Iraq, or Kurdistan is safe and has suffered from very little violence since 2003. Major cities, including Baghdad, are fertile grounds for political upheavals, kidnappings, and other underground activity, so tread lightly. The Kurdish peshmerga (military) is over 100,000 strong and every road, town, city and even village has checkpoints going in and out. All non-Kurds are searched thoroughly and occasionally followed by the internal secret police. However fear not, this is why there is almost no chance of terrorism in the North. The police are friendly and everyone is happy to meet foreigners, especially Americans.

Travelling alone makes you an easy kidnapping target, and is best avoided – if possible travel with a translator/guard. There are comprehensive private and state security services available for your personal protection - you are strongly advised to use the available options for your own safety. If employed in Iraq, consult your employer on how to handle your personal safety. Independent contractors will usually have security provided by their clients, if no security is provided you should seriously consider not travelling to Iraq, if you must go you should hire armed security and get proper training in appropriate protective gear, survival, and weapons.

Stay healthy

It is not safe for short term visitors to drink the water anywhere in Iraq. It is best to always drink bottled water, preferably made by a Western or Jordanian company. It will usually be sold at vendors and large stores, and will be easy to find. Most Iraqi water companies pump their water directly from the Tigris or Euphrates rivers, treat it with ozone, and then filter it into bottles. The taste is often not very good, and those with sensitive systems should not drink it. Many street vendors will offer drinks such as water with a lemon twist, which should be presumed unsafe for foreign visitors.

Those with experience in Iraq should use their discretion and past experience when purchasing drinks.

Drinking the local tea (chai) can be safe for some people since it is brought to a boil before serving, but when in doubt, insist that bottled water be used. Many kinds of water-borne disease, pollution, and infectious agents are not affected by boiling of water, and are still present in the water after boiling.

As a walk past an Iraqi butcher shop will demonstrate, food preparation standards are not the same as in Western countries, and consumption of local food can make a visitor ill. Try to bring your own. As tap water is generally not potable, you should especially avoid uncooked foods.

Should you find your body in the uncomfortable position of rejecting food and water due to something you shouldn't have drunk, immediately find someone who speaks Arabic and send them to a local pharmacist and request a product known locally as "InterStop" (similar to co-phenotrope/Lomotil). This works better than any well-known western brands.

Respect

Never show the soles of your feet to others. This may be considered very disrespectful by most Iraqis, unless you are in the company of friends. When in the company of friends, it's still best to excuse yourself before putting your feet up in the air with the soles of your feet in the direction of any person.

Don't spit in public or in the direction of others, even when obviously done without malice.

Connect


AVOID NON-ESSENTIAL TRAVEL; see also regional advisories.

The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The Government of Canada takes the safety and security of Canadians abroad very seriously and provides credible and timely information in its Travel Advice. In the event of a crisis situation that requires evacuation, the Government of Canada’s policy is to provide safe transportation to the closest safe location. The Government of Canada will assist you in leaving a country or a region as a last resort, when all means of commercial or personal transportation have been exhausted. This service is provided on a cost-recovery basis. Onward travel is at your personal expense. Situations vary from one location to another, and there may be constraints on government resources that will limit the ability of the Government of Canada to provide assistance, particularly in countries or regions where the potential for violent conflict or political instability is high.

Anbar province (see Advisory)

Avoid all travel to Anbar province. Armed clashes between Iraqi security forces and militants have been taking place in the area since the beginning of 2014, with the most severe fighting concentrated to Fallujah and Ramadi. Numerous casualties have been reported and thousands of residents have fled the province.

Provinces of Nineveh, Salaheddin and Diyala (see Advisory)

Avoid all travel to the provinces of Nineveh, Salaheddin and Diyala. Sectarian violence and terrorist activity have increased since early 2013 in these provinces, including frequent improvised explosive device (IED) attacks. 

Provinces of Dahuk, Erbil and Sulaymaniyah, under the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)

In recent years, the areas under the control of the KRG have been less affected by violence and terrorism than other parts of Iraq. However, these areas remain vulnerable to the impacts of both regional instability and internal tensions. While significantly less frequent than in other areas of Iraq, terrorist attacks do occur in this region, including in September and December 2013 and January 2014. Exercise a heightened level of vigilance and plan your security arrangements accordingly. Political tensions between the KRG and the Iraqi government may also result in the spread of violence beyond these disputed areas, into cities such as Mossul and Kirkuk.

Avoid border areas where Turkey and Iran conduct occasional cross-border military operations against Turkish and Iranian Kurdish rebel groups.

Insurgency

The security situation remains extremely dangerous and unpredictable. Since March 2013, the number and intensity of security incidents and sectarian-related violence have increased across Iraq, and this trend is expected to continue. Popular targets include Iraqi security forces, government offices as well as large public gatherings. Potential Arab-Kurd violence is also of concern. Iraq’s internal stability is further undermined by the ongoing political situation, in which government officials compete for power along ethnic and sectarian lines.

Car bombings, vehicle ambushes, and mortar and rocket attacks occur periodically across the country, including in Baghdad and the International Zone, resulting in numerous fatalities. These attacks are coordinated and cyclical in nature with recorded incidents generally declining after a spike of violence as security is tightened and as terrorist and insurgent groups prepare for future attacks. These attacks result in many casualties for bystanders, and the risk of being in the wrong place at the wrong time therefore remains high.

Threats to foreigners

Except in the Kurdistan region, the threat to foreigners, including Canadians, is very high. Foreigners are a prime kidnapping target for criminal and terrorist groups hoping to extort money.

While increasing numbers of international business people travel throughout much of Iraq, they do so under restricted movement conditions and almost always with close security protection. Stay in secure, guarded accommodations, travel with close protection teams at all times and take all necessary security precautions if you decide to travel to Iraq. You are also strongly advised to consider employing a professional security company and to adhere to their advice for the duration of your stay and to acquire comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling.

Demonstrations

Demonstrations and retaliatory attacks have been occurring across Iraq since April 23, 2013, when clashes between security forces and protestors in Hajiwa left more than 50 people dead.

Deaths and injuries are typical of these incidents in Iraq. There is greater unrest in the western and northern provinces due to ongoing Sunni protests and increased militant activity. Avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings, follow the advice of local authorities and monitor local media.

Crime

Crime and corruption are rampant. Carjackings and robberies are common. The security situation deteriorates after nightfall in most areas. Violent conflicts involving organized criminal elements, street gangs, militant groups, rival militias and Iraqi security forces pose grave dangers.

Checkpoints

Security checkpoints have proliferated in Baghdad and in other parts of Iraq. Exercise extra respect and cooperation at security checkpoints as tensions are heightened. An Iraqi police or army uniform is not a guarantee that the wearer is bona fide or operating in an official capacity. Exercise particular caution at ad hoc checkpoints, where murders, kidnappings and robberies frequently occur.

Baghdad’s International Zone

Movements in and out of Baghdad’s International Zone (IZ) are controlled by Iraqi security forces. All IZ entry control points are closed from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., with the exception of the entry control point leading to Baghdad International Airport, which closes at midnight. There is a heavy presence of Iraqi security forces throughout the IZ and vehicle check- points may be established at any time without prior notice.

Border areas

Avoid travelling to border areas. Iraqi forces are currently attempting to contain the effects of the deteriorating security situation in Syria, and Kurdish rebel groups are frequent targets of military operations into Turkey and northwest Iran. You may encounter serious problems with local authorities when unknowingly crossing porous borders.

Women’s safety

Consult our publication entitled Her Own Way: A Woman’s Safe-Travel Guide for travel safety information specifically aimed at Canadian women.

Road travel

Motorists frequently disobey traffic rules, including traffic lights, failing to yield to pedestrians at crosswalks, speeding, tailgating and not yielding the right of way. Avoid road travel at night.

Due to the country’s high liability risk, you may have difficulties obtaining car insurance.

Travel by road is not safe. Although travel at night is especially dangerous, attacks are also common during the day.

Avoid all travel by road from Amman to Baghdad in light of the heightened security threat. The road leading to Baghdad’s airport has also been the target of several attacks.

Buses run irregularly and routes are subject to frequent changes. Rundown transit vehicles are frequently involved in accidents.

Rail travel

Avoid travelling by rail in Iraq, as the railroad is old and poorly maintained.

Air travel

Consult our Transportation Safety page in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.

General safety information

Register with the Embassy of Canada in Amman, Jordan, plan your own security arrangements, limit your movements to areas not prone to violence, monitor local news reports and news broadcasts and remain alert to your surroundings at all times.

Curfews may be imposed throughout the country on short notice. Monitor the media in order to stay informed of changes.

Carry photo identification as well as a legally certified copy of your visa and registration at all times. Keep your passport and visa in safekeeping facilities.

Telecommunications facilities are very poor or non-existent in remote areas. The use of mobile phones is widespread in the major cities.

Health

Related Travel Health Notices
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
Vaccines

Routine Vaccines

Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.

Vaccines to Consider

You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread by contaminated food or water. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.

Influenza

Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or through personal contact with unwashed hands. Get the flu shot.

Measles

Measles occurs worldwide but is a common disease in developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Measles is a highly contagious disease. Be sure your vaccination against measles is up-to-date regardless of the travel destination.
 

Polio

There is a risk of polio in this country. Be sure that your vaccination against polio is up-to-date.

Rabies

Rabies is a disease that attacks the central nervous system spread to humans through a bite, scratch or lick from a rabid animal. Vaccination should be considered for travellers going to areas where rabies exists and who have a high risk of exposure (i.e., close contact with animals, occupational risk, and children).

Typhoid

Typhoid is a bacterial infection spread by contaminated food or water. Risk is higher among travellers going to rural areas, visiting friends and relatives, or with weakened immune systems. Travellers visiting regions with typhoid risk, especially those exposed to places with poor sanitation should consider getting vaccinated.

Yellow Fever Vaccination

Yellow fever is a disease caused by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.

* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
Risk
  • There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
  • Proof of yellow fever vaccination is required if you are coming from a country where yellow fever occurs.
Recommendation
  • Vaccination is not recommended.
  • Discuss travel plans, activities, and destinations with a health care provider.
Food/Water

Food and Water-borne Diseases

Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.

In some areas in Western Asia, food and water can also carry diseases like cholera, hepatitis A, schistosomiasis and typhoid. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in Western Asia. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!

Cholera

There have been cases of cholera reported in this country in the last year. Cholera is a bacterial disease that typically causes diarrhea. In severe cases it can lead to dehydration and even death.

Most travellers are generally at low risk. Humanitarian workers and those visiting areas with limited access to safe food and water are at higher risk. Practise safe food and water precautions. Travellers at high risk should get vaccinated.

Schistosomiasis

Schistosomiasis is caused by blood flukes (tiny worms) spread to humans through contaminated water. The eggs of the worms can cause stomach illnesses like diarrhea and cramps or urinary problems. Risk is generally low for most travellers. Avoid swimming in contaminated water. There is no vaccine available for schistosomiasis.

Travellers' diarrhea
  • Travellers' diarrhea is the most common illness affecting travellers. It is spread from eating or drinking contaminated food or water.
  • Risk of developing travellers’ diarrhea increases when travelling in regions with poor sanitation. Practise safe food and water precautions.
  • The most important treatment for travellers' diarrhea is rehydration (drinking lots of fluids). Carry oral rehydration salts when travelling.

Insects

Insects and Illness

In some areas in Western Asia, certain insects carry and spread diseases like chikungunya, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, dengue fever, leishmaniasis, malaria, Rift Valley fever, and West Nile virus.

Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.


Malaria

Malaria

There is no risk of malaria in this country.


Animals

Animals and Illness

Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, monkeys, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats. Certain infections found in some areas in Western Asia, like avian influenza and rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.

Avian Influenza

There have been human cases of avian influenza ("bird flu”) in this country. Avian influenza is a viral infection that can spread by contact with infected birds or surfaces and objects contaminated by their feces or other secretions.

Avoid unnecessary contact with domestic poultry and wild birds as well as surfaces contaminated with their feces or other secretions. Ensure all poultry dishes and eggs are thoroughly cooked.


Person-to-Person

Person-to-Person Infections

Crowded conditions can increase your risk of certain illnesses. Remember to wash your hands often and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to avoid colds, the flu and other illnesses.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV are spread through blood and bodily fluids; practise safer sex.


Medical services and facilities

Medical services and facilities

Medical facilities in Iraq are scarce and below Western standards.

Keep in Mind...

The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.

Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.

You are subject to local laws. Consult our Arrest and Detention page for more information.

An international driving permit is required.

The work week is from Sunday to Thursday.

Illegal or restricted activities

Religious proselytizing is forbidden.

The use of drugs and alcohol is prohibited. Penalties for possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs are strict. Convicted offenders can expect a long detention or even death penalties.

Do not drink alcohol outside licensed facilities. There is a zero tolerance policy regarding drinking and driving.

Dual citizenship

Dual citizenship is not legally recognized, which may limit the ability of Canadian officials to provide consular services. You should travel using your Canadian passport and present yourself as Canadian to foreign authorities at all times. Consult our publication entitled Dual Citizenship: What You Need to Know for more information.

Custody

According to Iraqi law, the child of a male Iraqi national is considered an Iraqi national. Even if the name of the child is written in the mother’s foreign passport, Iraqi authorities may consider the child an Iraqi national and the child will require the father’s permission to travel.

Religion

Islamic practices and beliefs form the basis of the country’s customs, laws and regulations. Dress conservatively, behave discreetly, and respect religious and social traditions to avoid offending local sensitivities.

Money

The currency is the Iraqi dinar (IQD). The economy is primarily cash-based. U.S. dollars are accepted. Credit cards and traveller’s cheques are not accepted. There are very few automated banking machines.

Climate

Iraq is subject to sandstorms and dust storms as well as flooding caused by heavy rains.

The weather is very dry and hot from May to October.

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