Reflections after time spent visiting Iraq and exploring the country.
Due to its troubled past, Iraq has developed a rather notorious reputation and many still consider it to be a no-go zone. But active fighting and terrorist attacks are a thing of the past and Iraq is open to international visitors.
Iraq, characterised by rich culture and history, has been becoming a growing tourism destination in the Middle East and those who visit can realise that, at this point, the country is anything but dangerous.
In April I spent two weeks exploring Iraq and I was surprised by how welcoming and friendly Iraqi people were.
I started my journey in Baghdad, the country’s capital city which is home to almost eight million people.
Baghdad, a vibrant hub of Arab culture and architecture, can seem chaotic with streets full of cars and thousands of people spending time at local markets. But walking around the city gives visitors a better understanding of what daily life in the Middle East looks like.
One of my favorite things to do in Baghdad was sitting in traditional cafes enjoying Iraqi tea and watching people passing by. Probably the most famous tea place in Baghdad is the Shabandar cafe that has been operating for more than a century. It is not a regular cafe, however, it is an intellectual hub where everyone, locals and foreigners alike, is welcomed.
A great way to find out more about the history of Iraq is visiting the Martyr’s Monument, commemorating soldiers who died in the Iran-Iraq war that began in 1980 and lasted eight years. Under the turquoise domes, there is an underground museum providing visitors with background information about the conflict.
Iraq, the place where the world’s first writing, urban centres, and agriculture were developed, is often called the cradle of civilization. The remains of the largest city of the ancient world, Babylon are well kept despite decades of armed conflict. To get to Babylon, one can take a shared taxi from central Baghdad. In the ancient city of Babylon, there also is Saddam Hussein’s palace and visitors can go inside and admire the view.
My Time in Mosul
Another city worth visiting in Iraq is Mosul. Many get stressed when they hear the name as, for years, Mosul has been associated with the Islamic State (ISIS), the terrorist organisation that seized control over parts of Iraqi territory in 2014. In fact, Mosul was ISIS’s main bastion in the country. The city was liberated from extremists in 2017, however, and, since then, its residents have been focusing on trying to restore its glory.
The majority of Mosul’s Old City is still destroyed but, although those who visit should exercise caution, Mosul is home to generous and warm people who are struggling to erase the city’s bad reputation.
During my time in Mosul, people would invite me to their homes, cook for me, and share their stories with me. Visiting Mosul was an incredible experience and not once did I worry about my safety.
Final Thoughts on Visiting Iraq
Whenever someone asks me about my impressions from Iraq, I say that it is a beautiful place entirely different to how it is presented in mainstream media. People are always excited to see foreigners and they go out of their ways to help them explore their country.
I would recommend visiting Iraq to anyone, not only experienced travelers. Those who visit have to be responsible, but this is the case with any off-the-beaten-path destination.
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