Tuesday, December 15, 2009

German travel info, hikers on trial

For those looking for some travel info in German (I suspect Swiss German), have a look at Reisetipps Nordirak/Kurdistan, who also kindly linked here.

Those US hikers who wandered into Iran are now going to be put on trial for spying. Some people on this forum believe they must be CIA. I suspect the CIA would be a lot more professional than sending young hippie hikers to check out the border. From the little I've read of those arrested, they don't seem to be spy types. The Iranian foreign minister said the hikers had "suspicious aims."

Thursday, November 26, 2009

new search feature

Like Erbil's various developments, this blog is always under construction.

The newest addition is the Google Search box on the right which will search for anything related to travelling in Iraqi Kurdistan on a number of quality travel blogs, including this one. Try it out, I hope it's helpful!

Monday, November 23, 2009

totten 2007

Not sure if I linked to this Michael Totten article a while back, but I came across it again and it's good.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

articles and news galore

Portuguese traveller João Leitão has posted some very detailed info about his recent trip to Iraqi Kurdistan, including info on various places I've never been to.

A blog post on Suli (at The Talibatan) with details of the study and research program of the American University of Iraq- Sulaimani, which incidentally, looks like a great uni.

Tourism slowly returns to Iraq, says America's ABC News.

The Times reported on the chairman of the Iraqi tourist board inviting tourists from the West to visit Iraq.

The Turkish Foreign Minister recently visited Erbil, promising that Turkey would open a consulate there. A large delegation of business leaders accompanied him. Iraqi Kurdish leaders and academics also attended a conference in Istanbul on Turkish/KRG links.

Iraqi politician/twitterer Barham Salih was recently made Prime Minister of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). Meanwhile the opposition leader, Nawshirwan Mustafa (leader of the Gorran [Change] list) believes the new government will fail to achieve anything.

Bahrain is planning on investing big money in Kurdistan.

And a general article about visiting the 'stans' of the world.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

An American in Araby - blog

You should check this one out. Short musings over travel in various places around Iraq.

On Kurdistan, see what Nate has to say about

Travelling to Dohuk, and the crazy ride there, shopping in Suli, and a sobering trip to Halabja.

This is probably one of the best blogs I've seen which covers current political and economic issues about present-day Iraqi Kurdistan.

Hikers charged with spying

Those American hikers arrested after apparently accidentally crossing the border into Iran from Iraqi Kurdistan (see my original post here) have now been charged with spying. Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal from the Bay Area in California were arrested in July. Hopefully these guys won't become pawns in the negotiations over Iranian nuclear energy aspirations. More from the BBC here, and for the latest run-down, check Google news.

post-war festival

This last weekend there was an art festival in Sulaymaniyah called post-war festival:

A partnership between ArtRole, UK and Khak Press and Media Centre, Iraq-Kurdistan

A 3-day celebration of Art and Culture in The Red Jail, Saddam Hussein’s security building in the city of Sulaymaniyah will include seminars, talks and a symposium. The festival will introduce and exhibit artwork by Iraqi, British and US artists and host presentations by British arts organisations.

These agencies will present the history of contemporary art in the UK and Europe. Curators from Iran, Turkey, UAE, Palestine, UK, USA and Asia will be invited to attend to offer their perspectives on contemporary art practice and the development of Iraq.

Academics and politicians i.e. directors of universities, colleges and art Institutes, ambassadors, local and international officials will also be invited to contribute. An internationally acclaimed installation, 20:50, by renowned British sculptor Richard Wilson R.A
. will be shown for the first time in the Middle East. the installation will be in place for 3 months. This event will create a unique platform and opportunity for Iraqi and British artists to experience working and exhibiting together. It will provide a highly visible venue for Iraqi people to engage directly with contemporary art. ArtRole will positively encourage young
people and their teachers from schools and colleges across the country to attend
the event.

The website also has a page on the Red Jail and also on Sulaymaniyah itself, which kindly linked to us here.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

new Kstan blog

Some sweet blog posts from Nomad Out of Time, who visited Iraqi Kurdistan last week. Great photos and observations:

Irbil - the Citadel

Under Kurdish Skies

FYI I highly recommend the whole of his blog with great stuff for linguistics nerds and anyone with an interest in Islamic history/culture/art, Middle Eastern culture, or a love for Istanbul.

Iraq maps, old-school and recent

Erbil map from 1944. More old Middle East city maps available from the University of Texas' Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection. Speed for map nerds.

Mosul map, 1944.

Mosul-Dohuk-Erbil region, "tactical pilotage chart" (not for navigational use), 1989.

And for those of you crazy enough to want to visit Mosul right now, here is a 2003 map of Mosul:

There are many more fascinating maps on UT's excellent & detailed Iraq Maps page.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Kurdistan blogs

Have a look at this excellent blog, Sahmaran, written by a doctor working in Kurdistan. Lots of quality photos and semi-regular updates.

Another good Kurdistan blog is Transnational Middle-East Observer, by Wladimir van Wilgenburg, a Dutch journalist interning with a Kurdish newspaper. Up to date and well worth following.

For those of you who speak Finnish, read an article on travelling in Kurdistan published in Voima magazine (in 2007) by Usva Auer, who also helped with some tips for this blog.

A February 2007 trip (just weeks after my own) is blogged here. Includes Zakho, Dohuk, Amady and Erbil, with a number of good photos.

Description of a July 2007 trip is found on a Boots-n-All message board here.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

tourists arrested after crossing to Iran illegally

Welcome to readers of AP/Yahoo News, who kindly linked to this website.

The story goes that a group of US backpackers hiking in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan.

From the article by Eric Talmadge:

"Still, in a region without a well-marked border, going off the beaten path in Kurdistan is very risky — as the three Americans discovered after they apparently wandered down the wrong side of a mountain last week and were taken into custody by Iranian border guards. Other than a frantic call to one of their friends, they haven't been heard from since.

The three — Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Joshua Fattal — were under arrest in Iran on Tuesday for illegally entering the country, and an Iranian lawmaker said that authorities were deciding whether to accuse them of spying. The U.S. State Department rejected the allegation, and relatives and Kurdish officials said they were merely hikers who got lost."

This reinforces the need for good sense when travelling in Iraq, even the relatively stable environment of Iraqi Kurdistan. going off the beaten track is risky anywhere, let alone a mountainous region with many areas with no physically marked border.

I hope that this situation does get resolved soon, and that Iran can see that this really is a few tourists who got lost. It would be a shame for the great progress Iraqi Kurdistan has made in recent years in the areas of tourism, foreign investment and economic development to be marred by this unfortunate and innocent mistake.

More articles:

Tehran Times: Three Americans straying into Iran under arrest:

"Iran has questioned reports that these people were some hikers who wandered across the border by mistake. "

NPR: Friends seek release of jailed hikers in Iran

Arrested hiker/backpacker/journalist Shane Bauer's good-looking website.

Canada's National Post: American Hikers Held in Iran

AP, hosted by Google: Arrest of US hikers mars Iraq tourism boom

For those who would like to learn more about travelling in Iraqi Kurdistan:

Please read the "about this site & disclaimer" page.

Learn how to get in and out.

Look at some of my city centre maps.

Read the frequently asked questions.

Follow our updates on twitter.

Have a look at the Iraq chapter in Lonely Planet's new Middle East guide, updated last year.

Keep in mind that some of this information is up to two years old. Facts change quickly in a place like Iraqi Kurdistan. Do your research before you make the decision to go.

For any enquiries, my email address is listed here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Erbil pub

The lone review of Deutscher Hof Erbil, the German pub, is here.

You can also get a Corona for about $9 at the lobby bar in the Erbil International Hotel (known to locals as the "Sheraton"). Well worth it after a long drive in.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Recent travel notes

Some very helpful travel tips from Jo, who was in Iraq in June:

Getting in from Iran at Haj Omran border crossing, no problem, is open to foreigners and visa on arrival for Kurdistan and the other way round no problem either, but need Iranian visa in advance. Possibility to take 1 or 2 minibuses(10000 Rials) from Orumiyeh bus terminal to Piranshahr (or like i did via Oshnavieh first one left at 6:00am then on to Piranshahr after a one hour wait 5000 Rial each, less than 1 euro total ) and hitch with trucks to the border from there, not far less than 10 KM or take a taxi for the last bit ( but i did see a few minibuses waiting on the iranian side of the border, maybe possible) or there are quite a few direct buses, 35$, from Orumyeh to Erbil. I got a free ride from Piranshahr to the border on one of these luxury liners but don't count on it, a friendly guy at the bus office smuggled me on. From Piranshahr they wanted still 30$ to Erbil! To Erbil from the border post you can hitch with Trucks or take a (shared) taxi to Erbil, 15000-20000 Dinar. It cost me 20000 as I took 2 different cars...

Erbil Hotels i stayed at the Al Zhur hotel look for the Shahraban Tourist Hotel sign on the corner, its opposite, nice tea house next door, and ok internet up the stairs next door too, you called it Al Thur, in the 4 bed dorm for 7000Dinar, had attached bath and satellite TV, have been in much worse. But not for everybody. My 2 room mates were older men from Baghdad and I went with one of them to Slemani, really nice and sheperded me around and put me on the minibus to go to the center of Slemani. The Yezidi managers were really friendly. There is a great BBQ stand out in front with delicious liver on a stick, 5000 dinar for 4 with a plate of salad, not bad. The textile museum in the Citadel of Erbil is very good and free. Around it, north, are some burned down mansions and some restored ones and some abandoned ones which are lovely to explore [I agree! - bpi]. Everything else is off limits really, lots of military presence in the citadel.

Erbil to Slemani took a Minibus, called Coaster, skirted the suburbs of Kirkuk, on the outer ringroad, never entered, but at the checkpoint I had to get out across the road to be questioned. a little risky maybe to cross there in so obvious a target. But went well, took 3.5 hours and cost 8000 Dinar.

Slemani got off at the big crossroads before the turnoff that gets you to the garage ( between Malik Mahmood Ring Road or 60 meter circular and Salim street), has a huge new overpass running over the crossroads (a traffic circle) took a minibus 350 Dinar to the center of Slemani(along Salim St) got off at the municipal park.

Slemani hotels asked around and found a real rough little cheapy (love them) the Salahudin, 3000 Dinar for a dorm bed ( no attached bathroom, toilet at end of corridor and shower costs extra if I understood right, haven't tried it yet. No sign, only in Arabic, up a little all white staircase white and red sign over the door, just 5 meters south of the red sign for Paris or Peris Internet, can't miss it. It's on Kawa st, northern third, just after the crossroads with Mawlawi St. First hotel I checked was hotel Sheren or Sherin Hotel just 50m south of that crossroads on Kawa St. 100m north of the Salahudin Hotel.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

recent news

Iraqi oil contracts will be auctioned next week.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

travel blogs, backpackiraq on twitter

, A great travel blog from Joe, a Canadian who recently travelled through Iraqi Kurdistan. There are some fantastic photos from the various cities and the countryside around Halabja too.
His directions to the Red House Prison, aka. the torture museum, aka. the Amna Surka is "about 5 blocks west and 2 blocks north of the main pedestrian market street."

Importantly, he says "A recent law change ensures that it is now impossible to visit Arab controlled Iraq with the Kurdish issued visa. Much to my disappointment."

Even though I understand Baghdad and many parts of southern Iraq are generally safer than they were (that is, it's less likely you will get hit by a bomb), Mosul and Kirkuk still seem quite dangerous according to news reports.

For the Spanish speakers out there, there is a blog that describes a trip to Iraqi Kurdistan. But for the non-spanish speakers, it has a ton of great photos from Kurdistan. Worth a look.

You can now find backpackiraq on twitter. Other twitters related to Kurdistan and Iraq are:

American Voices, a group doing music/arts projects in Kurdistan among other locations,

Barham Salih, the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, taking democracy to the people via twitter,

Salam Pax, the blogger from Baghdad.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Some news articles from last month:

The Dallas Morning News has an article on the first official tour group to visit Iraq's major historic sites since mid-2003. Hinterland Travel ran the tour:

Insurance, which is not provided by the company, is nearly impossible to come by. For that reason, the tourists tend to be on the older side because they have financial support networks and, Hann said, "because in the end you've been to places and you don't really worry as much, if you know what I mean."
Iraqi officials said they expect more tourists and Koa Van Chung, from New York City, agrees.
"Sure, there's military checkpoints, there's bureaucracy ... but in a few years this could be a viable tourist spot," he said.

Over 4,000 ancient artifacts have been dug up in the past two years on 19 ancient sites in Iraq:

The Iraq Museum has opened its doors to visitors but the pieces on show are only a fraction of what the museum had on display prior to U.S. invasion.

However, Taqani said more than 50,000 original museum pieces were still locked in secure areas.

Antiquities Department officials say they will have them displayed once conditions return to normal in the country.

AFP reports that Iraq plans to open a Saddam Hussein museum:

"We will look for a big building. I think one of the presidential palaces in Baghdad probably will be the place of the museum," said Talqani, noting that clothes, documents and various gifts given to Saddam by foreign leaders were among the possessions.

I'm not sure if the museum will be to remind people of the horrors of his rule (like the torture museum in Sulaymaniyah), or rather the so-called glories of it:

"They will be displayed for all the people of Iraq, future generations and visitors from of all over the world to admire."

Meanwhile the Christian community in Iraq is at risk of total decimation, the KRG is consolidating its separate parts, bombings are still going off in Baghdad here and there, and several gay Iraqi men have been killed recently after being disowned by family. And, I would guess, killed by the family to restore their honour.

And lastly the British Business Secretary Peter Mandelson led a delegation to Iraq to investigate investment opportunities.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Babylon opening, BMI to fly London-Baghdad?

The ancient site of Babylon will be open to tourists from June 1:

"The city, located 85 kilometers south of Baghdad, was transformed into a military camp by American and Polish troops and a heliport was built on its ruins. The reopening will take place despite archaeologists expressing their concerns about further damages to what remains of one of the world's first great cities which is pending registration on UNESCO's list of protected World Heritage sites. Iraq's State Board of Antiquities and Heritage now says Babil's provincial government has illegal control over the ancient city, using it for tourism interests regardless of its critical condition. " - from PressTV, Iran.

Meanwhile British airline BMI is considering reintroducing flights between London and Baghdad, no doubt to cater for the large Iraqi expat community in the UK.

"Last week, BMI announced it was keen to re-establish flights between Heathrow and Baghdad as soon as the British government allows. "A small number of scheduled services are being launched within the region," says BMI boss Nigel Turner, "and it makes geographical and economic sense to add Iraq to our network."" - from The Guardian.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

new tourism developments in Iraq

Saddam Hussein's bedroom isn't too popular for honeymoons. -from The Economic Times

Saddam's former palace was recently renovated into a luxury hotel and tourist attraction after being vacated by US troops in 2005. -from ArabianBusiness.com.

A $107 million tourism development in Basra has been approved. It will cover an area of 158 donums, or more than 39 hectares, next to the Shatt al-Arab. -from Basra Blog

Western tourists talk about their travels in Iraq. They travelled in areas including Kurdistan, Karbala, Najaf and Basra. -from NPR, link to radio story.

Baghdad's first motorsports meet in a long time was held recently. -from AFP.

And of course, another story asking can Erbil be the next Dubai? Dubai is now teetering on the brink of financial collapse after its property bubble burst. Lets hope any major developments in Iraqi Kurdistan are more economically viable.