Is Iraq safe for foreign visitors?
Iraq and war are unfortunately two words that go hand in hand, even still to this day. Can that still be said for the entire country? Is Iraq safe to travel through?
Iraq & Iraqi Kurdistan Travel
When discussing travelling in Iraq it’s fair to split the country between the north and the south.
Northern Iraqi Kurdistan has been a safe haven for travelers for several years now. The autonomous region controls it’s own borders and has a separate regional government, army and visa policy to the rest of Iraq.
It’s the largely maligned southern Iraq that we’ll discuss here.
It’s been 18 years since the American led invasion and 3 years on from the defeat of ISIS, so how safe is it?
Researching an Iraq Tour
In 2018 Rocky Road Travel conducted a research tour of Baghdad and southern Iraq. The goal was to visit as many places as possible, gain contacts and generally see if it was viable and safe to run tours there.
So, how did it go?
The journey from Baghdad airport to downtown takes you along “route Irish”, which is historically one of the most dangerous roads in the country. Today though it’s a good indicator of how your visit will pan out. It’s fully paved and like the rest of the city; at peace. It was a good start to the trip and certainly brings home the normality of the country today.
Whereabouts did we go?
Baghdad, Samarra, Nasariyah, Babylon, Basra among others.
The one thing that comes to mind about travelling through Iraq is the seemingly endless checkpoints everywhere you look. Baghdad itself is chocked with security. A necessary evil while the threat from ISIS is not yet fully quashed.
They’re obviously doing a good job with no reports of major incidents in the city in over 2 years.
The road north of Baghdad takes you along the “death road” which was once laced with IEDs.
Today bombed out villages from the 2014 ISIS assault along the road remain. There are checkpoints every few kilometres with a different militia manning the guard towers at each one. Most of these militias remain loyal to the powerful Moqtada al Sadr.
The road south of Baghdad is much more open and free to travel on. A much lower threat exists the more south you move. There’s a noticeably more laid back vibe on the streets of Najaf, Nasariyah and Basra too.
What did we see?
Plenty! Highlights include the Baghdad market scene and its serene soufi mosques. Babylon of course and the towering, UNESCO world heritage minaret of Samarra also stick out.
Also – you can even visit the off-license and have a beer by the Tigris with the locals (Not a joke!).