Iraq

Given that southern Iraq is still recovering from years of war and internal conflict, and remains nearly impossible to visit let alone enjoy, you might be forgiven for thinking that only a complete lunatic would dare travel independently to Iraq. Certainly a trip here requires more planning than, say, to Turkey, but for those adventurous souls who wish to see for themselves the very cradle of civilization, the north of the country, or 'Iraqi Kurdistan', is a beautiful, surprisingly easy place to visit. The only fail-safe overland way into the country is from the bordering Turkish town of Silopi, where it is possible to flag down a shared taxi to take you across the border. A few passport photocopies and a drive across the Tigris river later, and you will find yourself in Iraq! Dohuk is a pleasantly easy place to stop and spend a night, then travellers have their choice of carrying on to the capital Erbil, whose ancient citadel is one of the world’s oldest constantly inhabited places, or the modern cultural centre, Sulimanyeh. Of course the real draw of northern Iraq is the gorgeous countryside, full of lush waterfalls, green walnut trees, breathtaking cliffs, Kurdish families picnicking and hidden sacred sites such as the Yazidi temple at Lalish. Travellers should have a map with them, stick to shared taxis over buses as much as possible (to avoid passing near dangerous no-go zones such as Mosul), and try and learn a few words of Arabic and Kurdish before arrival. It is also worthwhile to do some research and have someone to meet up with or to show you around, as there are few western tourists or hostels catering to them, meaning even the most seasoned traveller can feel a bit lost at first! Despite this, everyone you do meet will certainly be curious as to who you are and where you are from, but also very welcoming and helpful and excited to show you “the other Iraq”. ~ Julia Totino


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 Full name: Republic of Iraq

 Population: 31.13 million (CIA, 2012)

 Capital: Baghdad

 Largest city: Baghdad

 Area: 438,317 sq.km. (169,235 sq. mi.)

 Major languages: Arabic, Kurdish,  Other

 Major religions: Muslim, Other

 Monetary unit: Iraqi Dinar

 GDP per capita: US $3,900

 Internet domain: .iq

 International dialling code: +964

 Source: CIA World Factbook