The Other Iraq (Part 2)

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The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all but essential travel to Iraq given the security situation. Travel within Iraq remains dangerous. This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning dated January 19, 2012, to update information on security incidents and to remind U.S. citizens of ongoing security concerns for U.S. citizens in Iraq, including kidnapping and terrorist violence. The United States completed its withdrawal of military forces from Iraq as of December 31, 2011. The ability of the Embassy to respond to situations where U.S. citizens face difficulty, including arrests, is extremely limited.

If you follow the international news you’ll know that Iraq is still being torn apart by sectarian violence more than a year after the US Army and its allies pulled out of the country. The coalition forces have brought some kind of democracy to the place but they failed to put an end to the mass slaughter which is indiscriminately laying waste to the population. The Angel of Death works overtime in this land, visiting pain on household after household. And a spirit of enmity continues to divide religious sects and ethnic groups. Unsurprisingly emotions are strongest in the oil-rich areas.

That being said I can say with hand on heart that the Kurdish-majority northern part of Iraq felt to me as safe as anywhere else I’ve been. Several times I roamed freely on my own without feeling threatened at all. In all honesty I have felt more at risk in parts of New York or London than I did in downtown Sulaymaniyah. When I walked in the bazaar the locals barely paid any attention to me even though I was the only white face in the crowd. And when they did interact with me they were invariably charming and friendly.

Perhaps I am a little reckless. Or just stupid. My friend Ciprian, who has been living there for around three months now, was more nervous about me going out on my own than I was. He advised me not to take taxis on my own, fearing I’d be an easy target for kidnappers. One time I told him I was going outside to take some photos but when he saw me fish my brand new Canon EOS 550D out of my bag an ashen look came over him. ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea,’ he said, ‘it’ll attract too much attention.’ Nonetheless I ventured into the thronging bazaar shooting away with my DSLR and all I got by way of a reaction was a friendly salute from this kid.

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However, I do not wish to deny the disturbances which do sometimes take place in Sulaymaniyah. In March of last year an American teacher was shot dead in front of his class by one of his students. The reason for his horrific fate may be that he was an outspoken Christian. At an international church which congregates in a rented room of a shopping mall I spoke to several people who knew him. They all agreed that this teacher had been too forward in his attempts to evangelise the Kurdish people, who are predominantly Muslim. The student who shot him had not responded well to having his worldview challenged. Exposure to Christian teaching left him confused – some days he embraced it eagerly, other days he reacted angrily to it.

There was also a consensus in the international church that the American teacher had been an extremely kind-hearted and approachable individual. Even Kak Amanj knew him and claimed that he was a close friend.

Such shootings are relatively rare in Sulaymaniyah. But, as I said in my previous post, political demonstrations are common and sometimes things can get ugly. If you want to read about some of these protests from the perspective of a Kurdish blogger who has been under fire from the government’s riot squads I recommend you check out The Moving Silent.

I had arrived in Iraqi Kurdistan at around 5am on Saturday, the 12th of January 2013. And after a bumpy ride from the airport in Kak Amanj’s battered car we arrived at Ciprian’s dorm. His living conditions are Spartan, like a cell in a hermitage or something. A stripped-down type of life. There is no inbuilt heating and Ciprian hates the smell of the bulky kerosene heaters which are normally used to heat interiors in Sulaymaniyah, not to mention the twofold danger of fire and carbon-monoxide poisoning which they pose. So he instead uses a small electric fan-heater. The only problem with that is the power-cuts which happen several times daily. You see, Sulaymaniyah’s power-grid was not built to handle modern-day levels of electricity consumption. As wealth grows in the city more and more people can afford to run air-conditioning and other power-hungry appliances and the electrical system can’t cope. Most businesses have back-up generators, and their insistent humming is part of the sonic background of the city. Some shrewd entrepreneurs have bought large generators and earn a tidy profit from providing back-up power to residential neighbourhoods for a fee.

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Ciprian says he can handle the primitive conditions of the dorm. Having spent his childhood in communist-era Romania when food and other basic necessities were in short supply he is familiar with extreme deprivation. But one thing he can’t stand is the cold. Even with the electric heater on he goes to bed nearly fully clothed and still complains that he’s not warm enough. It doesn’t help that his balcony door doesn’t close properly and is only secured with an elastic band tied to the bunk-bed. One night there was a sandstorm raging outside and this door was constantly being yanked open by the fierce wind. Funnily enough I didn’t feel cold at all in the room. I guess all those bitter winters I spent in Beijing count for something.

Ciprian’s neighbour, a slightly eccentric maths teacher called Kak Salim, was pleased to see his Romanian friend. ‘I thought you were never coming back!’ he exclaimed. (Ciprian had been traveling around Europe for a month or so, visiting his scattered family and doing musical performances). Kak Salim welcomed us with a plateful of dried figs, raisins and assorted nuts which had apparently come from Iran. Then he went back to his room to Skype his fiancée.

We also met the guy who was Ciprian’s roommate when he first arrived in the dorm, before he moved into a room of his own. I don’t recall his name but he was a Catholic from Mosul, a city about four hours drive north of Sulaymaniyah. Mosul is said to be a hub of al-Qaeda activity and is regularly buffeted by violence. The city’s Christians in particular are being forced out by targeted attacks. Just three days before I arrived in the country a Chaldean Christian teacher had her throat cut in Mosul and the following day a car bomb claimed the life of a Christian final-year medical student.

Ciprian’s ex-roommate is doing a PhD in family medicine. The ongoing violence in Mosul made it impossible for him to complete his course there. So, to pursue an uninterrupted education and to escape the brutal attacks on Christians in his hometown, he moved to the comparatively peaceful Sulaymaniyah where, amazingly, schools were only stopped once during the Iraq War. He is now in his final year of study and when he finishes he will apply for refugee status and move to the USA. His sisters are already living over there.

The three of us sat down to a simple breakfast in Ciprian’s room – freshly baked naan, cream cheese, jam, a salty yoghurt drink called ayran, and mandarins.

Then we hit the bazaar – Ciprian and myself – to drink sweet cardamom tea and buy a guitar. I would frequent the bazaar in the coming days after developing a strong attachment to the sweet tea, savouring its delectable comfort on cold mornings. The teashop owners for the most part were exceptionally friendly and sometimes would refuse to accept payment from us for the tea.

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As I already said I never once felt in danger when walking around the bazaar. Strangely I didn’t even feel out of place there. Although I was the only white person around I was barely conscious of my foreignness. People mostly paid me no attention. I was not overwhelmed by hawkers or dogged by pickpockets. I was not trailed by beggars. And the shopkeepers didn’t try to exploit my lack of local knowledge by charging me over the odds for things.

One time when I was looking for my sweet-tea fix a shop-owner hailed me over and struck up conversation with me. ‘Sprechen sie deutsche?’ he enquired.

I told him I couldn’t speak German.

‘Kurdi?’

I shook my head: ‘Inglise.’

‘Pity, my English is not so good.’

But his English was good enough for basic conversation. He told me he lived in Nuremburg, Germany as a refugee for about a decade. I asked him if he liked it there. He shook his head. ‘Too many racists.’

I experienced many variations of this conversation during my time in Iraqi Kurdistan. Pretty much everyone I met there had lived for some time in Europe or America. It’s only really since the fall of Saddam Hussein and the Baathist government that the Kurds have been able to feel safe in their homeland.

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This caused me to re-examine my own views on the Iraq War. I have always been a pacifist and was staunchly opposed to the deployment of coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have long felt that foreign wars are a counter-productive way to combat terrorism. And yet I cannot deny that the US-led invasion of Iraq was, for the Kurdish people at least, a good thing insofar as it took Saddam out of the picture.

Saddam was a ruthless dictator who sought to impose Arabic culture on the Kurdish region of Iraq. When the Kurds resisted this process of ‘Arabization’ he implemented Operation Anfal, a long, bloody campaign to wipe them and their culture off the map. I will come back to Anfal in a later post but for now suffice to say that Kurdish life was cheap under this reign of terror. Hundreds of thousands were killed and many more displaced. But ever since American troops spearheaded the overthrow of Saddam and the Baathists the fortunes of the Kurdish people have changed dramatically. Their cities are, for the most part, thriving; their markets are buzzing with activity; their children play freely in the streets; their villages have been rebuilt; their culture and language is intact; and hope is alive and well.

Whatever ulterior motives the allied forces may have had for entering Iraq – and I’m still convinced oil was the main motivator rather than empathy for suffering civilians – I’m glad that their actions at least gave the Iraqi Kurds the chance to live at peace in their homeland.

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In the evening Ciprian and I went to the Saturday service at the international church. The congregation was small but several nationalities were represented. I spoke to a Swiss man who had come to Kurdistan with his family to do business and a Mexican businessman who had likewise come with his family. Because of the lack of international schools the children of these families were being home-schooled.

There was also a bunch of American girls in their early twenties. They had come to Kurdistan as volunteers with humanitarian organisations to teach English. They too said they feel perfectly safe walking around in Sulaymaniyah. One of them had started out teaching in a village out in the mountains surrounding the city.

There were only two Kurdish guys at the church. One – Kak Saber – gave me his business card and said he worked for the International Bible Society. He was also a freelance journalist for various Kurdish newspapers. The other was a softly-spoken young guy with long hair and a Michael Jackson T-shirt. His name was Kak Shorsh. He couldn’t speak much English but he was pleased to see Ciprian. I learned later that this guy had lost both of his parents. In fact there wasn’t much left of his family at all. I’m not sure what his day-job is but, according to Ciprian, he is a gifted preacher.

After church Kak Shorsh took a taxi with Ciprian and myself because he lives near the dorm. He could barely speak a word of English and Ciprian’s Kurdish is very limited so there wasn’t much verbal communication between us. But this Kak Shorsh radiated some kind of inner peace which baffled me. His family had been wiped out – decimated. But if he harboured any bitterness there was no sign of it.

Back at the dorm Kak Amanj invited me to eat popcorn with him. In no time he had a saucepan rattling on the stove in the communal kitchen. A guy from the Turkish part of Kurdistan came in and I greeted him with the Arabic phrase which is always used in Iraqi Kurdistan: ‘Salaam alaikum’ (peace be upon you). But he laughed and said ‘I’m not an Arab! Don’t speak Arabic to me, I hate it.’

The following day I would visit an old prison where the Baathists detained and tortured their political opponents. And later in the week I would talk to a class of high-school students and take the bus to the ancient city of Erbil which is crowned with an 8,000-year-old citadel.

***

More posts on Iraqi Kurdistan coming soon.

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104 comments

  1. This is such a fantastic view into a part of Iraq that I never hear about: the normality of life as a major focus instead of the war. Great post and congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    1. Many thanks. I try to stay true to reality when I write about the places I visit. Glad you appreciated the article.

    2. Well said, enoic! I agree. I really enjoy hearing what life is like for normal people, on the ground in places we’re told are too dangerous to travel. I’ve had similar experiences in Central America and Asia where my friends think I’m crazy to travel, but in reality they were perfectly safe.

  2. My beloved country, my city duhok. I acke to see you again,your deep mountains of snow and green gras when the spring and summer comes… so lovely so freshly pressed :)

    1. you have a very beautiful country! I did not visit Duhok this time, but maybe one day I will :)

      1. Thanks for your reply. I wish that one day people around the world could visit my country and city just like any place . What i know is that many Arabs visit duhok as their tourist destination because of the city’s different tourist activities and that its close to Iraqi border. When you explain that you visited north Irak , what you actually visited was the south part of kurdistan . Wish that my country could become a great ski place because we have a lot of mountains . Thank for your presentation of the Kurdish places and that you explained how friendly place it it . I have been there many times and never heard about thing there that happens in Irak. Thank for the blog :)

  3. Thanks for the share… Had no idea that Iraq had something like this, all we know is what the media shows us.

    1. Glad you appreciated it. Yes, the media tends to feed us half-truths a lot of the time. But we as consumers are partly to blame, I think, because we insist on receiving our news in easily digestible bite-size chunks. Any headline story is far too complex to be dealt with justly in a few columns of newsprint or a five-minute report on the six o’clock news.

  4. free penny press · · Reply

    I learned so much with your post.. thank you..
    Congrats on a well deserved Freshly pressed!!

    1. Thanks. Glad you found it informative :)

  5. Excellent post. I was there as part of the US army several years ago. I travel extensively throughout the EU, the Americas and Asia. I’ve been to Dubai but that’s it for the Arab nations as a tourist. I am fair skinned and blond. Would you think that I be able to travel In some of the northern Kurdish areas?

    1. Hey, thanks for the comment. I honestly don’t see a problem with you visiting Iraqi Kurdistan. You will find the Kurdish people very welcoming. They are grateful to the US troops for liberating them from Saddam’s regime and I have even heard that it’s not uncommon for US military personnel to be given free meals at restaurants.
      However, make sure you don’t have an Israeli stamp in your passport when you go. And research the cities you want to visit. Not all are safe. There is still a lot of violence in Kirkuk and Mosul. But Sulaymaniyah and Erbil, the two cities I visited, are peaceful. There are several security checkpoints to go through when traveling between cities.
      Godspeed.

      1. Thank you. I will go. It will be next year but I am very much looking forward to it. I love and miss the food. Tanks for the reply

  6. this is very vivid writing, i feel i was with you, you have met some wonderful people on your travels, i look forward to reading more of your exploits

    1. thanks. I certainly have had the privilege of meeting some amazing people and I’m truly grateful for it. more coming soon!

      1. good, i look forward to reading it

  7. I look forward to seeing your blog on Erbil! Are you scared traveling in Iraq?

    1. actually I didn’t feel scared at all. the media gives us the impression that chaos reigns in Iraq, but in reality the Kurdish part is mostly peaceful and business is booming there. of course, some cities are still very violent. I had to pass through Kirkuk at one point and heard that there had been a car bomb there the previous day. but I didn’t feel any danger in the cities of Sulaymaniyah and Erbil.

      1. I can’t wait to read more from you! http://www.segmation.wordpress.com

  8. From Beijing: chun jie kuai le! (or near enough for various celebratory explosions to be disturbing sleep)

    I really appreciate hearing something of Iraq as my church (largely Egyptian) tutored an Iraqi family in the states. I always wanted some idea of what their life was like back home — thanks for your writing.

    1. 春节快乐! I really wish I was in Beijing right now. I miss China so much, especially at Spring Festival :) I used to go to church at BICF. Do you know it?
      Thanks for your comment.

      1. My wife and I visited — we go to BBC.

        You’re welcome — Cheers

  9. As a former US infantryman who did 3, 12 to 15-month tours in Iraq, it’s always nice to read stories from a different point of view. The first couple have been great so I’m looking forward to the rest.

    1. I salute you sir! Have you written anything about your experiences in Iraq? If so I would love to read it.
      Thanks for stopping by.

      1. Thanks! I haven’t yet, as a lot of it is still sinking in, but I have written a little bit on my blog about the effects of it. I’m sure one day I’ll come to terms with it all and write it down/type it up, but I haven’t quite gotten there yet. My last tour in 2009 was in Mosul, and I’ll tell you first-hand that your assumptions about it not being the happiest place in Iraq are definitely true. By far my worst time was in Sadr City, Baghdad in 2004, but Mosul was a scary place to patrol every day and night.

  10. jalal michael sabbagh.http://gravatar.com/jmsabbagh86@gmail.com · · Reply

    Great post .l graduated from Baghdad university and immigrated to the USA.The Iraq we knew will never be what it was . I was born there ,Iraq will always have a soft spot in my memory.Regards.jalal

    1. Thanks for your comment :) I hope that one day soon Baghdad will be peaceful enough for you to return.

    1. cheers for reblogging

  11. Its a nice insight into Iraq.

  12. I’m Kurdish, born and bred in Sulaymaniah and fucking grateful for your post. Thanks, mate.

    1. Wow, it’s always great to have a positive response from someone who actually comes from the place I’m writing about. I must say your country is beautiful and all the Kurdish people I have met have been very friendly. I hope I will get a chance to go back and explore the region more deeply.
      I had a quick glance at your blog and it looks interesting. I will be back to check it out properly. Thanks for sharing my articles on Kurdistan.
      Peace.

  13. Reblogged this on beautiful absurdity and commented:
    I’m Kurdish, born and bred in Iraq. Saddam Hussein was the worst Public Relations agent (to say the least) for the country that stands on my passport as my birthplace, Iraq, and the other country that I call my birthplace, Kurdistan.

    Read this and find out about that small safe haven in the middle of chaos: Kurdistan.

  14. It reminded me of my trip to Pakistan. All I had ever heard of via television and other news outlets was the killings and bombings and kidnappings. Turned out the country is really beautiful, the people are very friendly and respectful, the food is awesome, and now I can’t wait to go back there and explore more. When I shared my experience in my blog, some of my friends are suddenly interested in visiting Pakistan, too! I think traveling is actually diplomacy at work, on a grass-root level. Now, thanks to this, I’m having my eyes on Iraq :)

    1. Thanks :) ‘Traveling is diplomacy at work’. I like that. I’ve just had a quick look at your blog and love it. You write beautifully.
      By the way, if you do visit Iraq I would advise you to stick to the Kurdish areas. The rest of the country is still dangerous, with car bombs going off regularly in some places. Make sure you research the cities you want to go to.
      Best wishes. Thanks for following and for sharing my articles on Twitter.

  15. Great post man, thank you. Good on you for going to Kurdistan and taking the time to write such an informative and interesting post!
    Cheers,

    Joel

    1. Thanks Joel, glad you enjoyed it.

  16. Thank you for the inside look at the “other Iraq”! Greatly enjoyed your photos and reading about your personal experiences and insights. . . . Well done!

    http://arabianmusings.wordpress.com/

    1. You’re very kind, thank you. I see from your blog that you are well-acquainted with parts of the Middle East. What inspired you to move to Saudi Arabia?

      1. I had been living and working in Washington, DC with my husband for 17 years, and was ready for an unusual cultural adventure. My time in Saudi Arabia, where we lived and worked for 3 1 / 2 years, was an “eye opening” experience and a time of tremendous personal growth. . . . Keep up the wonderful and informative writing!

  17. Nice job, eye opening!

    1. thanks. it was an eye-opening trip for me :)

  18. To truly understand is to go and you have gone where most fear. Enlightening post in my ways.

    1. Thank you! It was definitely an enlightening trip for me.

  19. Thank you so much for this piece.

    1. You’re very welcome :) thanks for paying me a visit

  20. A sense of being in Iraq without being in Iraq… that’s fantastic… nice

    1. thanks, but there is so much more to the place than I can possibly fit into a few short articles. i try my best to do it justice.

  21. I kind of doubt as someone who’s Canadian with an Asian face, I doubt I would create waves of attention among locals…unless I bought something highly unusual.

    Great piece. I think locals just want to live in peace….like any other place in the world.

  22. […] The Other Iraq (Part 2) Mystery TrampMore Culture   […]

  23. I think it’s very important to show people across the globe, that despite cultural differences, we share a lot of similarities, it’s necessary to show other truths and experiences as unfortunately the media tends to portray a single imagery of a nation.
    As a Bolivian, most people tell me one: you don’t look Bolivian (because I’m white) two: they tal about cocaine, and think we are all doing it, three: think Bolivia equals, indians, llamas and poor villages. There’s little out there that shows otherwise. I want to break from these images, because diversity exists everywhere.

    1. I agree with you there Andrea. I have spent a lot of time as a foreigner in different countries so I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of stereotypes and prejudices.
      In all my years of traveling I still have not been to South America! I definitely intend to correct this as soon as possible :)

  24. Hello,

    I have nominated you for The Versatile Blogger Award. Please check http://www.TheReporterandTheGirl.com for award rules and a list of nominations which include you! Congratulations, you worked very hard and you deserve it, happy weekend and great blog!

    TheGirl

  25. Thanks for this interesting window on the other Iraq. People are people anywhere you go, I think.

    1. Thanks for reading. And yes, despite the complexities of culture/politics/religion all human beings are the same deep down.

  26. Sam,
    You’re definitely a talented writer and storyteller. I had a lot of fun reading this, so much so that I began reading it out loud to hear the words. The story along with the pictures, many of which could be any town/restaurant/dorm in the U.S., really bring this part of Iraq alive. Thanks for sharing this.

    1. You’re very kind. Thank you so much for your encouraging words.

  27. Thank you for sharing your experience in Iraq. As I was reading, I felt I was also touring the place with you. And yes, I share your view: OIL was the primary motive of the allied forces’ intervention in Iraq.

    Water, not Everywhere

  28. I was mesmerized by this writing.I too loved reading of this Iraq as it shows day to day living.Beautiful pictures I felt like I was right there.Blessings

    1. Thanks for your kind words. Glad you appreciated the article :)
      Blessings.

  29. Yours is a well told story of the Kurdish region of Iraq about which we in the U.S. hear very little. I enjoyed it very much. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed. This was a solid choice by the WordPress editors! :-)

    1. Thanks. I saw an article of yours that was freshly pressed too. Good work :)

  30. gladlymad · · Reply

    Loved this! It really gave me an insight into what peaceful life in Iraq is really like. Very intriguing! You have a great talent.

    1. Thanks a lot. I’m glad you found the article insightful.

  31. Fantastic depiction of “real” or at least “experienced in real life” Iraq. Congratulations on writing so well about traveling. It can get a little tiring at times.

    1. Thanks for sharing :)

  32. Wonderful blog. This is a great post. The photos are fantastic and I like your engaging entertaining writing style. I shall enjoy reading this.

    http://literarylydi.wordpress.com

    1. That’s very kind of you, thanks. I can see from your blog that you also write well. Keep it up! And I know what it’s like to be unemployed. I get pretty dispirited about it but you seem to cope well with the frustration.
      Wishing you all the best.

      1. Thank you. It was frustrating at first but suddenly things are happening. Maybe it’s my CV rewrite, maybe it’s putting it out there on Facebook! Or maybe as my aunt says, it’s the power of (her and her group’s) prayer…

      2. Many thanks, glad you enjoyed my blog, it’s nice to have your support.

  33. lovely article…and for a (welcome) change, you did not dwell too much on the lack of amenities, which are typical of any third world countries…insightful..

  34. lovely article…and for a (welcome) change, you did not dwell too much on the lack of amenities typical of any third world country…your style of writing reminded me of Thomas Friedman :)

    1. thanks man. yeah, I’m not too bothered by a lack of amenities. I went to a boarding school where we didn’t even have functioning showers a lot of the time. living conditions in Kurdistan are actually quite comfortable compared to some of the places I’ve lived.
      I don’t think I’ve read anything by Thomas Friedman before, but I will look out for his work from now on :)

      1. since you are in Iraq, I strongly recommend that you read “From Beirut to Jerusalem”… i love reading it again and again…

    2. I will look out for it. Thanks for the recommendation :)

  35. Reblogged this on katen0 and commented:
    Super Darstellung einer anderen Sichtweise auf den Irak. Sollte jeder mal lesen!
    Such a great view on the other side of Iraq! :)

    1. Thanks for sharing this. Glad you liked it :)

  36. Such articles helps to bridge the differences between perceptions and realities. Nice read.

    1. I’m glad you think so. I try.

  37. Despite what is going on in the country, its people want nothing more than to get on with their lives in peace. The same goes for the majority of Syria’s population.

  38. Please keep these coming. An insider’s view is always the best!

    1. I’m flattered that you think of me as an insider, but I was really only in the country for a week. I learned a lot in that short time though. In fact there’s no way I could do justice in my writing to everything I learned there.

      1. I had a similar experience during a ten-day service trip to Nicaragua. During that time I had the opportunity to spend four days living with a local family. They were “middle class”, but you have to understand that Nicaraguan middle class would place you among the most impoverished if you were in the United States. Nevertheless, they weren’t blind to their blessings as they were significantly better off than most Nicaraguans. Their hospitality was second to none and it really caused me to reconsider my values. On top of all of that, I don’t speak Spanish, (which was an an amazing experience on its own as I struggled to learn to communicate).

  39. Amazing! I have a friend living in Erbil, I plan to visit her soon. Im sory that Mosul is so unquiet, cause thats where Ninive is … :-(

    1. Excellent! Hope you have a great trip. And yeah, stay away from Mosul!

  40. Excellent post! That is all :)

  41. Your honesty is so refreshing! Thank you for this positive and realistic glimpse into what life is like in this region. Happy and safe travels to you!

  42. I love to learn about places I’ve never been. Thanks…

  43. Love to visit but is it save for tourists yet like i said really would like to visit

  44. Ana ahachi Arabi ;) just a little bit. I teach English as a Second language, and have a few friends from Iraq. Loved reading your posts, I’ve always wanted to visit there (they always say they will pay for my flight if I want to go) but its always been a bit of an unnerving thought of being a white American female and actually going. :) great pics!

    1. you should go :) as long as you stick to the Kurdish part (particularly Sulaymaniyah and Erbil) you should be fine. and if you have friends there so much the better. Some cities are still dangerous, such as Kirkuk and Mosul, so research the cities you want to visit first.

  45. Interesting article. We have some family friends who were working and living in Iran up until the revolution in ’79 and they found the attitude of the locals, people they had lived amongst for the past 5 years, changed almost overnight. Enjoy your time there but be careful!

    1. Very good point. My family were in China when Chinese fighter planes shot down an American spy-plane in Chinese airspace. Although my parents had been in the country for years and had been warmly received by the locals in their community at that time they could not leave the apartment for a few weeks due to hostility towards Westerners. Human beings are very fickle.
      Anyhow, I’m back in England now so no worries.
      Thanks for reading.

  46. Very informative, thanks for sharing mate.

  47. Hey, just noticed that this post was Freshly Pressed. Congratulations Mystery Tramp! Well deserved for a very interesting post.

    1. Hey, thanks for stopping by :) Chunjie kuai le! It’s a little late I know but there it is. And I don’t know the cantonese version, sorry!

  48. I really enjoyed reading this article, as a South African one gets many, many critics about the country i am living in and it really makes a huge difference if you are a realist and experience things first hand. I love how descriptive you are when visiting places giving me an idea of what it felt like and i suppose it is quite similar to Cape Town South Africa. Good work!

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