Iraq, Middle East - Stein Travel
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Iraq

Iraq is arguably the most dangerous country in the world, to say that travel there is 'ill-advised' would be an understatement when trained military combatants from the United States and other coalition forces are having a hard time staying alive there. When the smoke does eventually clear from this war-torn nation though, it might (depending on what survives the war) have many a wonder to reveal.

Iraq is a veritable gold mine of archaeological wealth. It was once the home of Ancient Mesopotamia, the capital of which, Babylon, was situated on the modern site of Al-Hillah on the east of the Euphrates River. The ruins of this ancient city, where the infamous Hanging Gardens of Babylon once existed, were treated as sacred palaces to Saddam Hussein during his reign and today are host to coalition forces and their often tasteless graffiti. In Baghdad, the remains of the Ishtar temple, the Ancient Theatre and the Babylon Tower (all precious Mesopotamian sites) are slowly being eroded by bombing and fighting in the city, much to the chagrin of archaeologists the world over.

The capital of Baghdad was a learning centre and focal point of the Middle East silk trade. The history of the three Mesopotamian civilisations that conquered the land; the Assyrians, the Babylonians and the Achaemenids is captured in the Baghdad Museum, which suffered some looting at the onset of the 2003 invasion but is now under the protection of the US military. To the south of Baghdad, near Nasiriyah is one of the few landmarks left untouched by the invasion so far, the Great Ziggurat of Ur. Built over 4,000 years ago as a platform onto which the gods could descend from the heavens, the strange stone temple is built on a trapezoid base and overlooks the ancient tombs of long gone Mesopotamian leaders.

Currently the only way to travel with a modicum of safety in Iraq is with an armoured army convoy. Again, it is emphatically advised that you don't travel there at all.

Information & Facts

Customs

Although Iraq is considered less 'fundamentalist' than some of its Middle Eastern neighbours, the overwhelming majority of Iraqi citizens are devout Muslims, and travellers to the region should be aware that the Koran still provides the basis for many of the country's social mores and customs. Conservative dress (covering the arms and legs) and reserved public behaviour are the norms, and although alcohol is legal in Iraq, drinking it in public is taboo. Photography is becoming more socially accepted, although travellers should exercise caution whenever using their camera ('Ask First' is probably a good rule to abide by, and don't photograph military installations or personnel). It is considered rude to show the soles of your feet or shoes, and to touch or move objects with your feet. Visitors should also avoid using their left hand when greeting others, or when eating, as it is considered 'haram' (impure). During the month of Ramadan, do not eat, drink or smoke in public places between the hours of sunrise and sunset, as it is bound to offend local sensibilities. Finally, it might be useful for travellers to bear in mind that in Iraq, an indirect communication style is favoured, with politeness and deference (especially to one's elders) being highly valued.

Duty Free

Travellers to Iraq may import the following goods tax-free: up to 200 cigarettes/50 cigars/250g of tobacco, one litre of wine or spirits, 500ml of perfume in open bottles, and gifts valued to US$28. Total value of duty-free goods must not exceed ID100.

Passport Visa

Tourist visas are not available.

It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.

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