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Iraqi Army soldier, Sab al Bors, Iraq. Photo and feature by jamesdale10

Iraq is becoming a brave new frontier for adventurous Western travelers. If you’re thinking of visiting Iraq, here are some key safety points.

Travel is a powerful force for peace. An engaged, open-minded traveler can be an ambassador of empathy and an antidote to terror.

The day American and Iraqi travelers can travel freely in each others country will be a great day. On that day, we will know for certain that war has at long last given way to peace.

Is it reasonable for you to consider traveling to Iraq now?

I don’t know. It depends on who you are and when you read this. If you do go to Iraq, however, keep these tips in mind – and tell us about your travels when you come home!

Do Your Research
Produce stand, East Baghdad, Iraq. Photo by jamesdale10

You can’t book a trip to Iraq in the same way you might book a Caribbean cruise. Do not even consider visiting Iraq until you have thoroughly researched the country, including recent political events.

Stay abreast of current news for months before your trip and while you are in Iraq. The best source of quality English-language journalism in Iraq is probably the Baghdad Bureau of the New York Times.

Other excellent sources of Iraq news include the BBC News Iraq Page and Al Jazeera English.

For general information and a range of helpful links, visit the website Another Iraq.

Stick To Safe Zones

Last year, an Italian tourist named Luca Marchio was found wandering around Falluja.

“I am a tourist. I want to see the most important cities in the country. That is the reason why I am here now,” he was quoted as saying.

“I want to see and understand the reality because I have never been here before, and I think every country in the world must be seen.”

As admirable as Luca’s sentiment might have been, he was lucky to get out of Falluja alive.

The truth is that some regions of Iraq are much safer than others. I would have no qualms about visiting much of Iraqi Kurdistan, for example, which Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler explored way back in 2006.

Generally speaking, southern Iraq is safer than the Sunni Triangle, and a traveler must be particularly careful in Baghdad, where the line between relatively safe and highly dangerous neighborhoods is sometimes unclear.

Iraqi Kurdish boy, Iraqi Kurdistan. Photo by jamesdale10
Don’t Go Gonzo

Iraq is the sort of destination that can attract adrenaline seekers with a talent for getting into trouble. Especially in the heady days of early occupation, Iraq was a green playground for dangerously naive foreigners drawn by money and war.

Most of these Quiet Americans are either jaded or gone. Some of them are dead.

You are advised to be extraordinarily cautious, respectful, and unobtrusive while in Iraq. The idea of going gonzo in a slow-burning war-zone might be exhilarating, but it can get very real very fast in this part of the world.

Baghdad, Iraq. Photo by jamesdale10
Consider A Guided Tour

A handful of specialty tour companies offer itineraries in Iraq. Hinterland Travel is a well regarded company with regularly scheduled tours in Iraqi Kurdistan.

A pioneering 17-day Hinterland of Baghdad, Babylon, and Basra was recently written up in the New York Times under the headline “Travelers, Your Tour Bus For Basra Is Boarding.”

Go Through Amman, Jordan

Amman is a safe, modern, vibrant city only 500 miles from Baghdad and linked by frequent buses and flights. Many Iraqi refugees live in Amman or travel there for health care.

Amman is a good place to cool your heels for a few days while absorbing all the latest information about current events in Iraq.

There are hundreds of Couchsurfers in Amman who can host you, in addition to all sorts of guesthouses and hotels.

Try To Blend In
Iraqi man and son. Photo by jamesdale10

There are basically two ways to stay safe in Iraq. The American Way, brought to you by Blackwater and Halliburton, is to drive fast, surrounded by soldiers and bodyguards.

If you aren’t traveling on the taxpayer’s dime, a better strategy is to blend in as much as possible. Women should dress in local fashion and men should grow out their facial hair.

Learning a bit of Arabic before you go couldn’t hurt.

Join The Army?

Many of the American soldiers in Iraq are trying hard to build peace, and joining up with this effort can be a noble decision.

US soldiers dine with Iraqi leaders. Photo by jamesdale10

Practically speaking, the army pays fairly well, offering good benefits and a route out of poverty for some Americans.

However, life as a soldier can be difficult and risky, and there are moral questions inherent in being part of a violent occupation.

For more information check out:

Official U.S. Army recruiting website

Iraq Veterans Against The War

Talk To Someone Who Has Been To Iraq

Iraq might seem as distant as another planet, but chances are you know someone who has been there recently. A trickle of Iraqi refugees are starting to settle in the states, and thousands of soldiers are coming home from deployment.

Reach out to these people. Invite them in and listen to their stories.

COMMUNITY CONNECTION:

Matador members who have been to Iraq include:

Canoe:

Dustin is a native Texan who loves his canoe and his camera. Dustin studied at Texas State University and graduated with a BS in digital imaging. He also served 4 years in the US Army and is currently deployed to Iraq with the National Guard in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Slinky:

I have always enjoyed traveling around the U.S. but now have a job and money to travel internationally. I plan to use this to explore the world. I have dabbled in a lot of different sports, but plan to get back into para-gliding, kiting, dirt-biking, four-wheeling, and fun when I return from Iraq.

Andy-J:

I’m a U.S. Marine…and a hippy.

Health + LifestyleSports + AdventureTrip Planning


 

About The Author

Tim Patterson

Tim Patterson is a long-time contributor and former contributing editor at Matador Network.

  • http://www.keepingpaceinjapan.com Turner

    I’ll have to get in touch with Canoe… thanks Tim!

  • http://www.andrisbjornson.com Andris Bjornson

    Wow, great article Tim…and not even a “Visit Iraq at your own risk, Matador doesn’t in any way encourage you to travel there” disclaimer :).

    Seriously people, do your homework if you’re even thinking about this. I agree that journos are probably the best source of up to date info, and have heard crazy stories from more than a few. I know of one who backpacked in from Syria, I believe.

    This is not a place where a lack of street smarts will just get you lost, scammed, or robbed. Fall prey to a fake police checkpoint and you could end up with a front row seat on the unfriendly side of the debate over why torture is a bad thing…or worse.

    Still, more power to you if you do go…the west desperately needs people who understand Arab and Muslim culture first hand. If you’re just looking for a taste, try Amman first….unlike Iraq, Jordan is a very easy place to travel.

    Happy Travels!

    Andris

  • http://www.wheretherebedragons.com Tim Patterson

    Um…

    Disclaimer: Travel to Iraq at your own risk.

    Thanks for the thoughtful and appreciative comment, Andris.

  • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/vagabonderz Carlo Alcos

    I hereby waive Matador of any liability for anything that may happen to me while in Iraq (unless it’s good, whereby I offer them my kudos).

    Sign here: _______________________ Date: _________________

  • http://www.andrisbjornson.com Andris Bjornson

    …can’t be too careful these days I guess. The internets are full of those “naieve foreigners” you mentioned. :)

    I’m picturing the next guy who manages to wander into Falluja on blind luck ending up on CNN and going “…and MatadorTrips.com told me Iraq was the place to be!”

    Great writing as always, Tim!

  • http://www.wheretherebedragons.com Tim Patterson

    Oh man, I can just see it on CNN…

    “And why did you go to Iraq, sir?”

    “WHOOOOOT!! WASSUP MATA-DORRR!”

    Seriously folks, be careful and do your research.

    • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/vagabonderz Carlo Alcos

      That was a wicked about face. i could just see it.

  • tom gates

    You’ve seen me in action. What are the chances that I’ll be in Iraq this decade?

    • http://www.wheretherebedragons.com Tim Patterson

      This decade? Slim. By 2012? Eminently possible.

      I see you, Chris Martin and Bono arriving to play a gig at the Hanging Gardens of Babylon by helicopter.

  • http://wayworded.blogspot.com/ Hal Amen

    This is great stuff, Tim. Love all the links.

  • http://none Dick Andrews

    Hey Tim – Couldn’t find your email address directly. Can you pls put me in touch with Frank Oatman by email?

    Haven’t seen him for 30 years – but would like to. He’ll remember me.

    Best – and thanks!
    Dick Andrews

  • http://www.newhealingjourneys.com Carmen

    I am half English half Iraqi and I live in Los Angeles. I have eight half-brothers and sisters plus numerous cousins and other relatives living in Iraq who I have never met. I have spoken to them many times on the phone – and even made them Facebook friends! – and they are always incredibly warm and welcoming. I would love to find a way to visit them in Iraq. They live in Basra and Baghdad. I speak a smattering of Arabic. I would like to find out: a) whether I can visit them in their country, or b) whether I can invite them to visit me here and how I do that. I am not at all a danger seeker, although I have traveled all over the world in the past. I don’t have lots of money, but I have enough to visit England once a year. Grateful for any help you can give me, Carmen

  • L A C


    Many of the American soldiers in Iraq are trying hard to build peace, and joining up with this effort can be a noble decision.” Were you drunk, are you an idiot or what?

  • ur mum

    why would u write this

  • Fabio Bianchi

    Sorry, but consider to travel to Iraq by an american is at least, offensive.

  • Josef kornal

    i want to visit in baghdad ……. i wish i can go there safely ……. but i just watch this page now im really scared now ……. man there is some way .. that i can go baghdad safely ….. and i’m so excited to go baghdad …….

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