MIDWAY: The other Iraq
Going anywhere interesting this summer? We thought we might take the kids to Iraq. It has a certain ring to it, doesn’t it? Well, now you, too, can amaze your friends and worry your mum sick because holidays in Iraq are back, and you don’t even need to pack body armour.
The secret of the Iraqi tourism renaissance is that it is confined to the northern Kurdistan region, which is independent from the rest of the country in all but name. It has its own flag, its own passport stamp, its own army and no fighting. As the advertising blurb puts it, it’s “the Other Iraq”. “It’s spectacular. It’s joyful. It has an experienced security force. Fewer than 200 coalition troops are stationed here,” the ad campaign promises. So that’s all right then.
By all accounts, there is a lot to see: mountains and rivers, and a multi-million pound alpine resort. And lots of archaeology. Alexander the Great defeated King Darius of Persia near the regional capital, Irbil, one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world. The ancient citadel is now surrounded by new shopping malls and apartments. Austrian Airlines flies there from Vienna four times a week.
A new airline has opened up a service to Baghdad from Jordan, but it is not quite ready for tourists. It’s called Expat Airways and targets a niche market — the contractors who risk their lives for big money, catering to the forces or working on reconstruction projects. It has caused consternation with its discriminatory passenger policy. It will accept westerners but not Iraqi, Indian or Pakistani nationals.
The firm say it’s not their fault — the policy simply reflects Jordanian visa restrictions.
Meanwhile, the tranquillity of Kurdistan may not last for ever. A couple of car bombs went off in May and, although Kurdish peshmerga forces have clamped down on the regional
border since then, there are rising internal tensions, particularly between Kurds, Turkmen and Arabs over the oil-rich area around Kirkuk. So book soon to secure your trip and your “My dad went to Iraq and all I got was this lousy T-shirt” souvenir. If it’s not on sale already, it soon will be.