• Population: 26.5 million (UN, 2005)
  • Area: 438,317 sq km (169,235 sq miles)
  • Capital: Baghdad
  • Major languages: Arabic, Kurdish
  • Major religion: Islam
  • Life expectancy: 57 years (men), 60 years (women) (UN)
  • Monetary unit: 1 Iraqi dinar = 1,000 fils

    The Republic of Iraq has got to be that Middle Eastern country intensely masked by political cliché, and anyone would hold this to be true, with words war and body count attached to Iraq in most current affairs as if these are normal everyday conversational pieces. However, the Iraqi tourism industry is, for the larger part, met with sarcasm and raised eyebrows in its efforts to lure tourists. The “Iraqi Holiday” is generally a pun of jokes, just like its instalment of “Spring Break in Fallujah”. And while the great Ancient Mesopotamia is the site of one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the City of Babylon, travel holidays packages here remain a hard sell, as Iraq remains unstable with continuing violence. There are still situations of regular bombings and civilian killings.

    For a country that has generated fame through war arcade games like Battlefield, tourism is not too promising, with around 70 tourists last year. But the country’s tourism board begs otherwise. In Iraq, they see great potential for becoming a holiday hot spot. Someday perhaps, but not now, most people would say. Its only hope is for the row after row of unexplored ruins and temples to do the talking, for the assurance of a “90% safe zone” reports just seem insufficient. This after all is the world’s “Cradle of Civilization”, with continuing civilizations from 6,000 years BC. This month alone, May 2010, just when international airlines are landing in Iraq once again, violence is back and explosions only signify this deadly party has begun. Only the most valiant travellers are willing to venture here. Iraq is simply one place where the traveller would not wish his vacation to be “explosive” or that the tourism industry be “booming”.


    Iraq (33 00 N, 44 00 E) is a huge landmass the size of California, 438,317 km2, located in the Middle East, right in between the two major rivers of Tigris and Euphrates. But life here is no beach and sun. The terrain consists mainly of desert and flat plains, where most of the population dwell, and the north is largely mountainous with the recently recorded highest point standing at 3,611 metres of an unnamed peak, as the Haji Ibrahim is less tall by 16 metres in comparison (3,595 metres).


    The climate of the region is mostly desert with mild and soothing winters of 15-16 °C temperatures, but summers here are of a totally different class of sizzle with mean temperatures of above 40 °C that very often goes well over 48 °C, and without so much a trace of a cloud in the sky. At the northern regions, over at the Iranian and Turkish borders, the traveller may expect some occasional snowing.


    At present, there is an estimated 29,671,605 Iraqi inhabitants in the country where three-quarters are Arabs, and a fifth is Kurdish. The remainder comprise of Iraqi Turkmens, Assyrians, and many small communities of indigenous communities. Not being too quick to forget that there are 1.9 million displaced Iraqis all over the world from the Iraqi Diaspora.


    Iraq has not officially released statistics on religion but the country is generally a Muslim state with 97% of the population as Muslims. The remaining 3% are Christians and other sectoral religious followers. The language in the region is as homogenous as the religion here.


    ARABIC is the official language spoken prevalently. KURDISH, AZERI, ASSYRIAN, ARMENIAN or FARSI are spoken by their own respective groups. ENGLISH, on the other hand, is commonly spoken, but to no advantage as using it in conversations or transactions may only classify one as an outsider, rendering one at a risky position here.


    The truth of the matter is, today, there aren’t many tourists in Iraq simply due to security issues. When Iraq used to be the centre of the Ancient world, now, Iraq seems to be at the centre of chaos. At least, that’s what international news headlines say of the country for a good many years now. But if the traveller is as intrepid as to brave in spite and despite the security alert, the National Museum of Iraq is a terrific way to re-acquaint with the grand sophistication of the civilizations that made this nation great, all Assyrians, Sumerians, and Babylonians. The world’s finest collection of archaeological artefacts, relics, and treasures of the ancient world are under this magnificent roof.

    Three UNESCO World Heritage Sites and nine more on the wait list…that is but part and parcel of what Iraq desires to share to the world. Hatra, the capital of the first Arab Kingdom, and podium on the historical oriental Silk Road, possesses some wonderful and amazing Roman-Greek-Arab architecture that is truly out of this world. Just outside Baghdad is Babylon’s Hanging Gardens, where beauty remains, although beauty is at wont. The Erbil Citadel, the oldest inhabited settlement for 7 millennia now which also houses hundreds of buildings of historical, cultural, and architectural essence. Assur, the ancient capital of the 3rd millennium BC Assyrian Empire, with its mud-brick city foundations ought to make anybody’s IT…and plenty more to discover yourself.



    Iraqi or Mesopotamian cuisine is an enticement in itself, offering historical insight of a collection of 10-millenium-old culinary traditions, through recipes prepared in the temples and preserved in tablets. These are essentially the first cookbooks on the planet. Well, what do you know? However, it is the Iraqi cuisine of the Abbasid Caliphate that lived through to become the modern-age cuisine of Iraq, and truly no better legacy, this now we know. Iraqi cuisine has also evolved to include strong influences from Turkey, Iran, and Syria.

    Mezze signifies the beginning of a wonderful Mesopotamian meal with many varieties to choose from, hot and cold, they got it all. Kebab, grilled meat, is one of the most famous dishes, and shawarma, grilled meat wrap sandwich is Grade-A street food. And Iraqis do this rather well from marinating to grilling, skill and experience is obviously at play. Long-grain rice or timn is a staple and is the base for a different spectrum of Iraqi dishes called Biryani, which are Indian by origin. Mediterranean dishes are also infused in the Iraqi gastronomy like the popular bunch of falafel or mashed chickpeas fried into balls, dolma or stuffed grape leaves, and bamia, a lamb-okra-tomato stew.

    Mediterranean traces are visible with the Iraqis’ selection of dessert and the accents (cheese and honey) they choose with it. Kleicha is Iraq’s national cookie, which is a biscuit with special filling of nuts or dried fruits. The ever-present Mediterranean bakhlava is like a sweet friendly familiar face that comforts the traveller wherever the adventure is. Just like its main man, there is more of the cuisine to explore.

    Danger and violence – these are what keeps Iraq’s tourism industry from flourishing, but to the small lot of the bold and the fearless travellers, this is the attraction. Why come now, why be here, you ask. With great potential to unveil in the coming years, there ought to be no other time to see Iraq up close as the traveller would right now, as we speak. Coming here, now sans the tourist traffic, the rampant urbanization, or the mostly cheesy package deals, independent travel is at best in Iraq. It remains to be one of the most untouched and untainted, picture-perfect places in the world. Iraq is the traveller’s ultimate off-the-beaten path challenge.

    Most countries, allies of the United States in general, regardless, have government-imposed restrictions to travel to Iraq, rid of formulated foreign agreements to the possibilities of this great destination. More than ever, Iraq needs a miracle in its tourism industry as they look for other feasible means to amplify revenue. Rich history, but life-threatening danger…one day, the call of Babylon will be louder.

    Josh Boorman


    Backpacking Addictz



    Twitter: @backpackaddictz

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    Joshua Boorman

    Joshua Boorman

    Founder & Editor in Chief at Backpacking Addictz
    Come with me on a journey with me to various destinations throughout the world. We discuss all things Backpacking, Lifestyle Design & Online Business to help you achieve new found freedom and create a life of meaningful fulfillment.
    Joshua Boorman

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