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Travel Warning WARNING: The security situation in Iraq remains volatile and uncertain. Although the political situation has somewhat stabilised and many urban areas are now relatively safe to visit, a low-level ISIS insurgency is still taking place in rural areas. The north-east provinces, which comprise Iraqi Kurdistan, are safer for foreigners, but sporadic violence can occur anywhere in the country. Kurdistan has been subject to sporadic attacks involving artillery, drones, and rockets. Many governments advise against travelling to Iraq unless it is absolutely necessary. If you decide to go, strongly consider hiring a local guide. Many highways have road blocks set up by not only the Iraqi government, but also by various local militias, who will inspect your documents and question your purpose of visit.
Government travel advisories
(Information last updated 12 Dec 2023)

Iraq (Arabic: العراق Al-Irāq, Kurdish: عێراق Êraq) is a republic in the Middle East. It has an extremely rich history and culture that is still visible today, although accessing it may pose some challenges to visitors. It was once host to the region of ancient Mesopotamia, often called the "cradle of civilisation". After the rise of Islam, Baghdad became a center of learning and the arts during the Islamic Golden Age. Its holy cities of Najaf and Karbala now accept millions of pilgrims per year from throughout the Middle East.

Iraq is a melting pot of different cultures, with the Arabs being the largest ethnic group. Other prominent ethnic groups include the Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians, and Turkmens. And while Islam is the state religion, there are also various minority religions still actively practiced in the country. Most Iraqis are Shia Muslims, just like their Iranian counterparts.

However, the country has been in a state of turmoil since the 1980s. The government is dysfunctional, and the country suffers from a plethora of social problems such as corruption, terrorism, and poverty. The legacies of Iraq's various wars in the 20th and 21st centuries are visible throughout the country, and still weigh heavily on the minds of its people. Ethnic and religious tensions, especially Sunni–Shia and Kurdish-Arab conflicts, still plague the country. Making matters worse, climate change, worsening heatwaves, water scarcity, and airborne carcinogens from oil burning in the south have created significant environmental problems.

In spite of the difficulties they face, the vast majority of Iraqis are friendly and hospitable hosts. It is common to be offered free food and gifts, and they are often eager to chat with you.


Iraq regions - Color-coded map
  Northwestern Iraq
The land north and northwest of Baghdad, between and around the upper Tigris and Euphrates rivers. An Assyrian/Chaldean minority exists primarily in the north.
  Baghdad Belts
The belts of suburbs, towns, and cities radiating out from the centre of Baghdad.
  Iraqi Desert
The vast, sparsely-populated desert region in the west and southwest of the country.
  Iraqi Kurdistan
Home to the Kurdish people (as well as Iraqi Turkmens and Assyrian Christians), and largely under the administration of what is for all intents and purposes a separate national government, this is the safest region of Iraq for travel. The area is very mountainous with a beautiful scenery and the climate tends to be milder than in other parts of Iraq. Has separate visa requirements from the rest of Iraq.
  Southern Iraq
The Cradle of Civilization itself, home to major Shia cities and holy sites, such as Karbala, Najaf, Basra, and Nasiriyah, as well as legendary ruins of ancient civilizations, including Babylon and Sumerian Ur. Also known as Lower Mesopotamia. It also serves as Iraq's main access to the sea.
Map of Iraq


  • 1 Baghdad (بغداد) — capital of Iraq, and one of the cultural capitals of the Arab world with a long and rich history.
  • 2 Ar Rutba (الرطبة) — most isolated town in Iraq, deep in the desert.
  • 3 Basra (البَصرة) — large port city with extremely hot climate.
  • 4 Dahuk (دهوك) — Kurdish city surrounded by mountains.
  • 5 Erbil (Arbil) (أربيل) — capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.
  • 6 Fallujah (الفلّوجة) — a city with over 200 mosques now better known for the sieges and battles fought here.
  • 7 Karbala (كربلاء) — one of the holiest cities in Shi'a Islam. The Arbaeen pilgrimage brings millions of Muslims to the Imam Husayn Shrine here every year.
  • 8 Kirkuk (كركوك) — an important cultural capital to the Kurds, Turkmen and Iraqis.
  • 9 Mosul (موصل) — Once an important city in Iraq and containing the ancient ruins of Nineveh, now left mostly in ruins after battles with ISIL.

Other destinations[edit]

  • 1 Ashur — former capital of the Assyrian Empire and UNESCO World Heritage site, this is one of the country's few great archaeological sites that has benefited from the latest invasion—the Hussein government planned to create a dam nearby that would have flooded and utterly destroyed the site.
  • 2 Babylon (بابل) — damaged by inept reconstruction, looting, and military negligence, the ruins of ancient Babylon are still some of the most impressive in the Cradle of Civilization.
  • 3 Ctesiphon Ctesiphon on Wikipedia — the ancient capital of the Parthian and Sassanid Empires left us with magnificent, towering ruins, most notably of the magnificent Arch of Ctesiphon; just across the Tigris is the archaeological site of the ancient Hellenistic city of Seleucia.
  • 4 Hatra — once a UNESCO World Heritage site, this formerly well-preserved Parthian city off in the desert contained quite possibly Iraq's most magnificent ruins, which were severely damaged or destroyed by Da'esh extremists in 2015.
  • 5 Lalish — Home to the holiest temple of the Yazidis
  • 6 Nineveh Nineveh on Wikipedia (نينوى) — a 3,000 year old city and one time capital of Assyria, whose partially reconstructed ruins and archaeological site lies across the Tigris from Mosul.
  • 7 Ur Ur on Wikipedia (أور) — the ruins of the ancient Sumerian city, best known for its giant step pyramid, the Great Ziggurat of Ur.
  • 8 Uruk Uruk on Wikipedia (أوروك) — an ancient Sumerian city that was once the largest in the world during its apex circa 3100 BCE, and from where Gilgamesh once ruled. (Should be about 40 km east of As Samawah)


Capital Baghdad
Currency Iraqi dinar (IQD)
Population 38.2 million (2017)
Electricity 230 volt / 50 hertz (Europlug, AC power plugs and sockets: British and related types, BS 1363)
Country code +964
Time zone UTC+03:00, UTC+04:00, Asia/Baghdad
Emergencies 112, 104 (police), 115 (fire department), 122 (emergency medical services), 100
Driving side right

A country with a federal democracy, Iraq has a growing population of 40 million. As a member of the Arab League, it has significantly experienced modern economic and military growth and historic instability through wars. Iraq is the home of the world's first civilizations, with a development of writing, agriculture and urbanity.


See also: Ancient Mesopotamia


Iraq is the birthplace of many of the Earth's oldest civilizations, including the Sumerians, Akkadians, Assyrians and Babylonians. A part of the Persian Empire from the 6th century BCE, the Caliphates between the 7th and 13th centuries and the Ottoman Empire from 1534, the Treaty of Sèvres brought the area under British control in 1918. Iraq gained independence in 1932.


On 14 July 1958, the long-time Hashemite monarchy was overthrown in a coup led by Abdul Kassem that paved way to radical political reforms, including the legalisation of political parties such as the Ba'ath and the Communist Party, both key players in the coup (also called the 14 July Revolution). Following the Revolution, the Soviet Union gradually became its main arms and commercial supplier.

In February 1963, Kassem was overthrown and killed in a second coup that brought the Ba'ath Party into power. Internal divisions would follow for the next five years, until another coup on 17 July 1968 led by Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr (with Communist support) stabilised the party. Relations between the Communists and the Ba'athists ranged from mutual cooperation to violent mistrust, culminating in the purge of Communists from the army and the government by 1978, causing a temporary rift with the Soviet Union. On 16 July 1979, Bakr resigned and was succeeded by right-hand man Saddam Hussein, who carefully purged his enemies and became a dictator almost overnight.

Ba'athist Iraq[edit]

The next twenty-five years took a grinding toll on the country. Saddam Hussein's regime was notorious for its severe violation of human rights and many experts consider his regime to be among the worst of the worst in the world. Political dissent was not tolerated, freedom of speech was curtailed, and many Shia Muslims were routinely targeted and murdered by government forces, furthering the sectarian divide in the country. The harshness of Ba'athist Iraq forced many Iraqis to go into exile or flee abroad.

The Ba'athist regime was also notorious for its brutal, harsh treatment of the ethnic Kurdish minority. The Ba'athist regime forcibly deported Feyli Kurds to Iran, engaged in forced disappearances of ethnic Kurds, and ruthlessly cracked down on uprisings in Iraqi Kurdistan by responding with full-scale massacres. Perhaps the most brutal campaign ever to be organised against the ethnic Kurds is the Anfal Campaign, in which more than 200,000 Kurds were killed and tens of thousands of women and children were imprisoned and tortured. Because of these actions, many ethnic Kurds express feelings of distrust towards the Iraqi government.

When Iran became an Islamic theocracy in 1979, Saddam Hussein feared that Iran would threaten his leadership and control in a Shia-majority country, so he launched a full-scale invasion against the country in the 1980s, which would soon culminate into open warfare. To fund its military objectives, the Ba'athist regime borrowed extensively from other countries, pushing the country to near bankruptcy. Historians have documented that the Ba'athist regime extensively used chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq war. The Iran-Iraq war lasted for eight years and it claimed more than 500,000 casualties. The war ended in a stalemate.

Shortly after the conclusion of the Iran-Iraq war, Saddam Hussein annexed and invaded Kuwait in the 1990s, claiming that Kuwait was an integral part of Iraq. Soon after, the Gulf War began and after a month, Saddam Hussein surrendered and retreated from Kuwait. International sanctions targeted Iraq, exacerbating the country's political, social and economic problems.

Present day[edit]

In the early 2000s, the United States accused the Iraqi government of having a weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program and organised a coalition of forces and invaded Iraq. Although they were successful in removing Saddam Hussein from power, much of Iraq's infrastructure was destroyed, sectarian tensions were worsened, and millions of Iraqis were forced to flee abroad. The WMDs were never found and the invasion and the handling of the aftermath of the war remain controversial.

Iraqi Kurdistan's autonomy was confirmed. While it never declared independence, it is de facto run as a separate country with its own laws, military, immigration and diplomatic missions, and where Arabic is not widely spoken. Iraq held its first post-Baath elections in 2005. Political tensions and instability continued and reached its peak in the mid-to-late 2010s when ISIS controlled large parts of Iraq. ISIS was eventually defeated and driven out of the country. Although things appear to be getting better, Iraq's security situation remains volatile.

Life for the vast majority of Iraqis has become incredibly miserable, and many have since emigrated in search of better opportunities elsewhere. Many Iraqis feel there's no hope or future left for their country, although a small portion of people feel that things will change in due time. The prospects of change seem remote at best, but hopes are high.

Some of the problems that Iraq faces today are universal throughout the Middle East. Issues include widespread corruption, lack of effective governance, sectarian and ethnic tensions, and negative influences on democracy. In the 2020s, Iraq has been trying to position itself as a hub of diplomacy in the Middle East, and hosted numerous rounds of normalization talks between arch-rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran, though the final agreement was only reached after a round of talks was hosted by China in March 2023. This success has been followed-up by Iraq playing host to still-ongoing normalization talks between Egypt and Iran.

Since the toppling of Saddam Hussein, Iraq has had an informal power sharing agreement such that the prime minister is always a Shi'a Arab, the speaker of parliament is always a Sunni Arab, and the president is always a Kurd.


Iraq mainly consists of desert, but near the two major rivers (Euphrates and Tigris) are fertile alluvial plains, as the rivers carry about 60,000,000m³ (78,477,037 cu yd) of silt annually to the delta. For the early history see Ancient Mesopotamia.

The north of the country is mostly composed of mountains; the highest point being at 3,611m (11,847 ft) point, unnamed on the map opposite, but known locally as Cheekah Dar (black tent). Iraq has a small coastline measuring 58km (36 mi) along the Persian Gulf.


Sunset above Tigris

Most of Iraq has a hot arid climate. Summer temperatures average above 40°C (104°F) for most of the country and frequently exceed 48°C(118°F). Winter temperatures infrequently exceed 21°C (70°F) with maximums roughly 15 to 16°C (59 to 61°F) and night-time lows occasionally below freezing. Typically precipitation is low, most places receive less than 250mm (10 in) annually, with maximum rainfall during the months of November to April. Rainfall during the summer is extremely rare except in the very north of the country.


Before the large-scale murders by the "Islamic State" organization and flight from Iraq of members of non-Muslim minorities (especially Yazidis and Christians), Arabs who are 65% Shia and 35% Sunni Muslim comprised 75%-80% of the major population of Iraq. 15% of Iraq's population was comprised of Kurds (including Yazidis and Shabaks), Turkmen and Assyrians. Over around 20,000 Marsh Arabs live in southern Iraq. Indigenous Neo Aramaic speaking Assyrians, most of whom are adherents of the Chaldean Catholic Church, Assyrian Church of the East, Assyrian Pentecostal Church and Syriac Orthodox Church accounted for 10% of the Christian population. It is hard to be sure what current figures would be. Iraq once had a large Jewish minority that was once estimated to comprise up to a third of its population, but that community was expelled with the founding of the State of Israel in 1948. Most of the exiles ended up settling in Israel.



Ramadan is the 9th and holiest month in the Islamic calendar and lasts 29–30 days. Muslims fast every day for its duration and most restaurants will be closed until the fast breaks at dusk. Nothing (including water and cigarettes) is supposed to pass through the lips from dawn to sunset. Non-Muslims are exempt from this, but should still refrain from eating or drinking in public as this is considered very impolite. Working hours are decreased as well in the corporate world. Exact dates of Ramadan depend on local astronomical observations and may vary somewhat from country to country. Ramadan concludes with the festival of Eid al-Fitr, which may last several days, usually three in most countries.

  • 11 March – 9 April 2024 (1445 AH)
  • 1 March – 29 March 2025 (1446 AH)
  • 18 February – 19 March 2026 (1447 AH)
  • 8 February – 8 March 2027 (1448 AH)

If you're planning to travel to Iraq during Ramadan, consider reading Travelling during Ramadan.

  • New Year's Day (January 1)
  • Armed Forces Day (January 6)
  • Nowruz (March 21)
  • Baghdad Liberation Day (April 9)
  • Labor Day (May 1)
  • Republic Day (July 14)
  • Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha (variable) Islamic religious observances
  • Islamic New Year (variable) Islamic religious observance
  • Ashura (variable) Islamic religious observance
  • Independence Day (October 3)
  • Victory Day (December 10)
  • Christmas (December 25)

Get in[edit]

Travel Warning Visa restrictions:
Entry will be refused to citizens of Israel and to those who show stamps and/or visas from Israel if arriving at airports in Baghdad, Basra, Mosul or Najaf.

Entry requirements[edit]

Citizens of all European Union member states, Australia, Canada, China, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States may obtain a visa-on-arrival at any official point of entry. All other nationalities require a visa in advance.

For those entering the country without a visa, one can be purchased at most border crossings for USD80 in cash. Total crossing time is around 1 hour for individuals. If you intend to acquire a visa at your port of entry, be prepared for long waits, and bring plenty of documentation about who you are and what your business in Iraq is. Letters on company or government letterhead are preferred.

Obtaining a travel visa to Iraq is complicated and time consuming. You can obtain an application at the local Embassy of Iraq. However, all applications are vetted in Baghdad. Even if you do obtain a visa, you may still be refused entry into Iraq once you arrive. Visas can be acquired in advance at the Iraqi embassies in London, Paris, and Washington, D.C.

Iraqi Kurdistan has its own separate visa requirements from the rest of Iraq, meaning that a regular Iraqi visa is not valid for travel to Iraqi Kurdistan; you will need to obtain a separate Iraqi Kurdistan visa for that. Iraqi embassies and consulates cannot issue Iraqi Kurdistan visa; you will need to contact an Iraqi Kurdistan representation for that. Likewise, Iraqi Kurdistan visas are not valid for travel to the rest of Iraq.

By plane[edit]

Entrance to Erbil airport

Iraq has international airports at Baghdad (BIAP), Basra, Erbil, Sulaymaniyah and Najaf. For passengers transiting these airports, connecting flight tickets are usually not available, so separate tickets are needed. This means that a delayed flight can miss a connection making onward travel difficult. Be prepared to spend many hours waiting for a replacement flight. Iraqi Airways will exchange flights quite easily when there is space available.

The national airline, Iraqi Airways, operates a growing fleet of more than 30 modern jets. Their main activity are domestic flights but Iraqi Airways also offers flights to numerous international destinations. FlyBaghdad also has local and regional flights to/from BIAP. There are some other small airlines offering domestic flights.

The best way from Europe to Iraq is either with Austrian or Turkish Airlines. Austrian Airlines provides four flights per week from Vienna (VIE IATA) to BIAP. Turkish Airlines flies twice daily from Istanbul (IST IATA) to BIAP, and to Basra, Erbil and Sulaymaniyah.

Within the Middle East, Royal Jordanian Airlines operates two daily roundtrip flights from Amman (AMM IATA). Emirates and the low-cost carrier Flydubai from Dubai arrive on a daily basis in Baghdad and Basra.

The best connected and safest airport is the Erbil International Airport. Flights into Iraqi Kurdistan are offered by most European and Middle East carriers like Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines, Austrian Airlines, Royal Jordanian and Etihad. Iraqi Kurdistan is safer than the rest of Iraq, and has thus seen enormous growth and investment since 2003. However, you cannot enter Iraqi Kurdistan with a regular Iraqi visa, so this option is not available unless you have a separate Iraqi Kurdistan visa.

Services to the city of Van, Turkey are offered by Turkish airlines from most western cities via Istanbul, from here a taxi will take you to the border for the equivalent of USD35-200 depending on your bargaining skills (Turkish drivers will only usually accept lira, euros or pounds sterling).

By train[edit]

The classic way of reaching Iraq was by the Taurus Express train from Istanbul, featured in the novel Murder on the Orient Express. However, since 2003 there have been no regular international passenger trains to Iraq and it is unlikely there will be any in the near future. For travelers to the southern city of Basra, an alternative might be to travel to the nearby border city of Khorramshahr, which sees daily trains from several cities in Iran, and then continue by taxi the last few kilometers.

By car[edit]

Iraqi Border Guards

Cars can be the most dangerous method of travel into the country. On reaching the border it is advisable to leave your taxi/rental car, for an armoured 4x4, with an armed guard if required.

From Turkey[edit]

Driving in from Turkey is the best method of entry into the Northern part of the country. This area of the country is relatively safe, at least compared to the rest of the country. Border police and locals will advise you which cities are safe to travel in (Zakho, Dohuk, Erbil, As-Sulaymaniyah), and will warn you away from specific cities (such as Mosul or Baghdad).

From Diyarbakir, Turkey, you will drive south east to Zakho, Iraq. It is possible to take a previously arranged taxi, the average cost of this taxi ride is USD150 and most of the drivers only speak Kurdish or Arabic. You will often switch taxis in Silopi about five minutes from the Iraqi border, or you will change cars about 70 km from the border and continue on from there. The taxi driver will then take care of all your paperwork at the border. This involves your driver running from building to building getting paperwork stamped and approved. You must have a photocopy of your passport for the Turkish section of the border, which they require that you leave with them (the photocopy, not your passport).

A much less expensive option is to take a bus from Diyarbakir directly to Silopi. From the Silopi otogar (bus station), it's easy to get a taxi to Zakho. A good taxi driver can handle all of the photocopying and paperwork for the Turkish side.

At this point you will finish driving across the border crossing into Iraq. Your taxi driver will then take you to the Iraqi immigration and customs section. All persons and vehicles entering Iraq must be searched for contraband by the customs officers, and their vehicles are registered and pay some sort of stamp tax, however, occasionally, searches are not conducted. Without this stamp tax, it is illegal for a non-Iraqi vehicle to purchase gas at any of the state-run gas stations all over the country. After paying any import duties to customs and receiving the vehicle stamp, the immigration officers will check your passport and stamp it if you have a visa. Additionally, at some land border crossings, your fingerprint and/or photo will be taken.

At this point, you will be at the border taxi stand, a few kilometres outside of the city of Zakho, and may need to hire another taxi to get to Zakho's city centre. For the taxi ride from the Turkish city where you changed cars to Zakho, it's about USD40. This is a safe place to meet your friends or to charter a taxi into another part of the country. Enjoy some tea while waiting.

From Jordan[edit]

For land crossings from Jordan, be prepared for a long ride. The trip through the eastern Jordanian desert is much like a moonscape. The journey from Amman to Baghdad can take anywhere from 10-15 hours. You will depart Amman between 05:00 and 10:00, and arrive at the border crossing about four hours later. The border crossing can take anywhere from an hour and a half (on a very good day) to more than five or six hours. Entering Iraq usually takes about half as much time as leaving Iraq. The Jordanian immigration and customs officers are very finicky about whom they will let in, and they will often shut their side of the border and not allow anyone to enter for unspecified reasons.

The trip from the border to Baghdad is very dangerous. The route is full of highway bandits and gangs of thieves that prey upon unprotected travellers. Travelling this route without adequate communications gear or weapons of any kind is strongly discouraged. Do not make any stops along this route, if traffic becomes stalled for any reason on the highway (other than a possible IED), then it is best to make circles until traffic flows again. Vehicles, especially those that may be occupied by westerners, are subject to attack at any time. Carry extra fuel and plenty of food.

From Kuwait[edit]

Travelling from the Kuwaiti border is just as difficult as crossing from Jordan. The Kuwaiti crossing is complicated even more by the fact that Kuwaiti immigration and customs officers are even more strict than the Jordanians and anything at all can cause them to arbitrarily block your entry or exit. Sneaking into a military convoy is not advised as your vehicle might be mistaken for a suicide attacker by the turret gunners in the convoy.

Reliable but inconspicuous transportation is a must in Iraq. It is probably best to buy a vehicle that blends in with the other cars on the road. Toyota, Hyundai and Kia, along with less familiar Eastern European and Asian brands are common. BMWs and Mercedes are also seen in Iraq but are less common, especially nice ones, which usually have the steering wheel on the right side.

From Saudi Arabia[edit]

The border crossings in Arar and al-Jumayma are both open. However, these routes pass through some of the most inhospitable parts of Iraq and strict preparations are necessary.

By bus[edit]

Bus travel is a popular choice for locals to travel between Iraq and neighboring countries, especially from Iran. However, travelling this way can be quite chaotic and involves finding timetables and arranging tickets on the ground or by phone. One exception to this is buses from Turkey into cities in Iraqi Kurdistan where sites such as Obilet offers online tickets.

There's limited regular routes from other neighboring countries, with shared minibuses being the main option instead. JETT has intermittently offered a bus service from Amman, capital of Jordan to Baghdad. Third party nationals can also gain entry into Iraq for work purposes; these buses usually depart from Kuwait.

Get around[edit]

Due to the autonomous nature of Iraqi Kurdistan, travelling between Iraqi Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq will involve border inspections as if you were travelling internationally.

  • In Kurdistan, public transport is rare although regular buses do link Zakho and Dohuk and cost about USD2. There are plans of a public bus network in Erbil, which is estimated to be launched after 2020. From Dohuk, shared taxis leave all day for Erbil and other cities. The road from Dohuk to Erbil goes south near Mosul, but does not leave Kurdish territory and is thus safe, although perhaps too close for comfort.
  • Shared taxis might be the safest way to travel in Iraqi Kurdistan, as the drivers are not interested in leaving the province either.
  • Shared taxis also may be your only method of traveling around outside Iraqi Kurdistan. If you are a foreigner, expect to be stopped at most checkpoints. Be ready to tip or pay more than the agreed upon amount for the inconvenience. The checkpoints really start to ramp up north of Tikrit.
  • The road from Mosul to Kirkuk passes by Iraqi Kurdistan. Have your Iraqi visa ready.

By car[edit]

The Erbil-Mosul highway

Driving at night may be a safer alternative to daytime driving, but a few rules to follow:

  • Avoid city centres. Although most Iraqis are asleep by midnight, the few that are awake are almost certainly up to no good.
  • Watch for the military. If you are out late at night and effectively trying to blend in with the locals, you could be mistaken for a hostile/troublemaker. At checkpoints, you will also be treated as a suspect, and until they decide you are not a target, you must conduct yourself carefully.
  • If you do encounter the military, ensure your lights are on, turn on your hazards/flashers, slow or pull over to the side of the road and follow any and all instructions given. If a stop sign, green laser, or any other signal is directed at you or in your general direction it is advisable to follow it, better to err on the side of caution than get shot at.
  • For those travelling to Iraq and make friends along the way, be extremely cautious if they offer you a ride.

By train[edit]

Overnight trains links Baghdad with the southern city of Basra, there are both a slow train taking up to 12 hours for the full journey and an express one making the journey in 6-7 hours. There are also daily trains between Baghdad and Fallujah as well as irregular services to the holy city of Karbala, especially during religious festivals. Train travel is considered relatively safe, mainly due to the extensive security checks all passengers have to go through before boarding the train.

All trains are run by Iraqi Republic Railways. Tickets can only be bought at stations.


See also: Arabic phrasebook
See also: Kurdish phrasebook

The two official languages of Iraq are Arabic and Kurdish.

The local vernacular is Mesopotamian Arabic, otherwise known as Iraqi Arabic. It has extensive borrowings from languages such as Aramaic, Akkadian, Persian, Turkish, Kurdish, and Hindi. Know that Modern Standard Arabic is rarely spoken in everyday conversations. However, approximately 68% of Iraqis are knowledgeable in MSA, so if you wish to improve your Arabic skills, you shouldn't have any problems. You're not expected to know the local dialect, but if you make an attempt to learn a few words of the local vernacular, you will impress the locals!

Iraqi Kurdistan is one region where little to no Arabic is spoken.

Kurdish is the mother tongue of the Kurds and it is spoken mainly in Iraqi Kurdistan. Two varieties of Kurdish are spoken in Iraq: Kurmanji and Sorani. Generally speaking, the use of Kurmanji is limited to Duhok, whereas Sorani is more commonly spoken. It's worth mentioning that Kurmanji and Sorani are mutually unintelligible. Any attempt to speak Kurdish will be warmly received.

English is commonly spoken. You should not have problems getting around using only English, but the downside of speaking English is that you'll immediately be identified as an outsider and may attract unwanted attention from some undesirable people (e.g. criminals, corrupt officials).


Main courtyard of the Al-Kādhimiya Mosque in Baghdad
The ancient ruins of Babylon

The past 40 years of disastrous government and devastating wars has taken its toll on Iraq's travel industry. After the fall of the Saddam Hussein government, which was virulently hostile to the Shia religion, religious pilgrims, mostly from the Middle East, Iran, and Central Asia, have returned in large numbers to the holy sites of southern Iraq, especially to the spiritual home of Shia Islam in Karbala. Religious pilgrimage remains quite unsafe, but there is a greater degree of safety in numbers, and in being familiar with the Arab region. And of course, pilgrimage is a more urgent reason for travel than sightseeing!

One can only hope that this great and ancient region soon sees increased security and stability, for it makes a fascinating travel destination for anyone interested in history, be it in ancient history 4,000 years old, medieval Islamic and later Ottoman history, or the modern history of the early 21st century. The aforementioned conflicts and misgovernment have not been kind to Iraq's ruins, especially in terms of the massive rebuilding done on ancient Babylon by the Hussein government and later negligence by foreign military presence. But the pull of such ancient cities as the Babylonian capital Babylon; the ancient city of Ur, of mankind's first great civilizations, Sumeria; major Parthian cities at magnificent Hatra and the capital Ctesiphon; and the Assyrian capital of Ashur, remains great enough to overlook the damage done.

The holiest sites of Shia Islam outside of Saudi Arabia are in Iraq's southern fertile heartland. The Shia-Sunni split in Islam occurred over a dispute in the mid-seventh century C.E. as to the true successor of the Prophet Muhammad, with the Shiites supporting Ali ibn Abi Talib, who would become the first Imam, and whose Caliphate capital was located in the medieval city of Kufa. Ali's tomb is found in present day Najaf at the Imam Ali Mosque, one of Shia Islam's most holy sites. The third Imam, grandson of the Prophet, Husayn ibn Ali, is widely revered as one of Shia Islam's greatest martyrs, and the two grand mosques of Karbala, Al Abbas Mosque and Imam Husayn Shrine (which stands on his grave) are the sites of the Shiites' most important pilgrimage, to observe the Ashura, the day of mourning for Imam Husayn. Samarra is home to another one of the most important Shia mosques, Al-Askari Mosque, which serves as the tomb of Imams 'Ali al-Hadi and Hassan al-'Askari. Tragically, this mosque is badly damaged, suffering explosions in sectarian violence in 2006, destroying the dome, minarets, and clock tower. Lastly, Al-Kadhimiya Mosque in Kadhimiya is revered, as it is the burial place of the seventh and ninth Imams, Musa al-Kadhim and Muhammad at-Taqi. Also buried within this mosque are the famous historical scholars, Shaykh Mufid and Shaykh Nasir ad-Din Tusi. Iraq is also home to significant holy sites of Sunni Islam, especially Baghdad's Abu Hanifa Mosque, built around the tomb of Abu Hanifah an-Nu'man, the founder of the Ḥanafī school of Islamic religious jurisprudence.

In terms of modern attractions, most are the big modernist sculptures and palaces of the Saddam Hussein government, located primarily in Baghdad (or on top of some of the world's most important heritage sites....) Given the warfare, external and internal, and government atrocities committed against its own people over the past 40 years, one can only expect that the future will see widespread construction of memorials to those who suffered. But such developments may have to wait until the nation's turbulent present settles down. In the meantime, it is possible (albeit often dangerous) to visit the cities and sites of battles that became household names throughout the world in the 2003-2011 conflict.




Exchange rates for Iraqi dinar

As of January 2024:

  • US$1 ≈ IQD1300
  • €1 ≈ IQD1400
  • UK£1 ≈ IQD1700

Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from

Iraqi currency is the Iraqi dinar, denoted by the symbol "د.ع" (ISO code: IQD). Banknotes are issued in denominations of 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, 25,000 and 50,000 dinars. Coins, and banknotes in denominations of 250- and 500-dinars are rarely used.

While the dinar is the official currency, you will also be able to spend euros (€) and US dollars (USD) in many places. Most people do not like to make change for large denomination banknotes. Any defects in the bills (creases, ink stamps from banks, tears, etc.) will raise suspicion that you are a counterfeiter. Don't bring old bills with you, either. Carry mostly small bills in the form of Iraqi dinars for daily spending cash.

Some shopkeepers do not accept U.S. dollars, but most people will still pay large hotel bills using US dollars or euro due to the volume of notes required to pay with dinars. The conversion rate fluctuates from day to day and from town to town.

Learn the security features of the dinar and US dollar notes; do not accept pre-2004 "Saddam dinar" notes. The former Iraqi government was known to be making passable USD20, USD10, and USD5 bills, and these counterfeiters are apparently still in business.


See also: Middle Eastern cuisine
Tepsi Baytinijan
  • Masgouf Considered as the national dish of Iraq. It is an open cut carp (a freshwater fish) roasted for hours after being marinated with olive oil, salt, curcuma and tamarind while keeping the skin on. Traditional garnishes for the masgouf include lime, chopped onions and tomatoes, and flatbread.
  • Tepsi Baytinijan Also very popular dish in Iraq. A baked casserole typically consisting of meatballs, aubergine, tomatoes, garlic, onions, and potatoes.


Alcohol is legal in Iraq and street vendors can usually get alcohol if you really need it, but again this is just asking to be identified as an outsider. Furthermore, while alcohol is legal many Islamic fundamentalist insurgent groups in Iraq have targeted alcohol vendors and users.


Sleep in the hot summer months can be difficult. Sleeping outside and near flowing water is the most comfortable setting one can find outside of air conditioning.

In Iraqi Kurdistan, there are plenty of hotels and although they are hard to find in any travel guide, anyone on the street will direct you to a nearby place. There's no shortage in Zakho, Dohuk or Erbil. Rates run about USD15-25 per night for a single room with bathroom.


Work in Iraq pays very well. Typical foreign contractors can make up to USD100k per year for security and administrative work.

You may also find some jobs in the construction sector, as the country's infrastructure is in need of desperate repair.

If you're an investor seeking to diversify your portfolio, you can set up a brokerage account in Iraq and invest in the local stock market. Bear in mind that you typically need USD20k to set up an account and all required documentation needs to be verified by the local Iraqi embassy/consulate in your country.

Stay safe[edit]

Although things are gradually getting better, the political and security situation remain very unstable.

Emergency services[edit]

Due to years of warfare and destruction, emergency services are unreliable and inadequate.


See also: Corruption and bribery
Never, ever trust the Iraqi police.

Iraq is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Corruption is so deeply embedded in Iraqi society that even the Iraqi government struggles to fight it with success.

Brutality and corruption are rampant in Iraq's police force; such is the extent of corruption in the police force that it's not uncommon for police officers to bribe political figures so that they can climb up the work ladder.

In other words, do not expect any kind of help or reliable assistance from Iraqi law enforcement authorities. They only exist to harass, intimidate, and threaten people.

Foreigners may attract the attention of corrupt police officers. In the event you come face to face with a corrupt official, just be firm and polite. As upsetting as it may sound, try not to lose control of your emotions when dealing with an ill-behaved, corrupt official; rude behaviour will be responded to with rude behaviour.

Legal issues[edit]

The legal system in Iraq is slow, highly corrupt, and inefficient. Due process is hard to come by. Property and land disputes are common and they're very difficult to resolve through proper channels. Your embassy will most likely stay away from such circumstances.


Army convoy in Mosul

Iraq is beset with numerous problems that make travelling risky and difficult. The security situation is perilous in just about any area of the country, and continues to deteriorate under continuing terrorist attacks. Resistance to continuing military occupation, U.S. and UK forces, and Iraqi military, police or anyone associated with the Iraqi government, as well as increasing factional and sectarian conflict make street warfare, bombings, and other acts of armed violence daily occurrences.

The central third of the country is the most volatile; the southern ports are less dangerous, but only relatively so. However, northern Iraq, or Kurdistan is safe and has suffered from very little violence since 2003. Major cities, including Baghdad, are fertile grounds for political upheavals, kidnappings, and other underground activity, so tread lightly. The Kurdish peshmerga (military) is over 100,000 strong and every road, town, city and even village has checkpoints going in and out. All non-Kurds are searched thoroughly and occasionally followed by the internal secret police. However fear not, this is why there is almost no chance of terrorism in the North. The police are friendly and everyone is happy to meet foreigners, especially Americans.

Travelling alone makes you an easy kidnapping target, and is best avoided – if possible travel with a translator/guard. There are comprehensive private and state security services available for your personal protection - you are strongly advised to use the available options for your own safety. If employed in Iraq, consult your employer on how to handle your personal safety. Independent contractors will usually have security provided by their clients, if no security is provided you should seriously consider not travelling to Iraq, if you must go you should hire armed security and get proper training in appropriate protective gear, survival, and weapons.

Stay healthy[edit]

It is not safe for short term visitors to drink the water anywhere in Iraq. It is best to always drink bottled water. It will usually be sold at vendors and large stores, and will be easy to find. Most Iraqi water companies pump their water directly from the Tigris or Euphrates rivers, treat it with ozone, and then filter it into bottles. Those with sensitive systems should not drink it. Many street vendors will offer drinks such as water with a lemon twist, which should be presumed unsafe for foreign visitors.

Those with experience in Iraq should use their discretion and past experience when purchasing drinks.

Drinking the local tea (chai) can be safe for some people since it is brought to a boil before serving, but when in doubt, insist that bottled water be used. Many kinds of water-borne disease, pollution, and infectious agents are not affected by boiling of water, and are still present in the water after boiling.

As a walk past an Iraqi butcher shop will demonstrate, food preparation standards are not the same as in Western countries, and consumption of local food can make a visitor ill. Try to bring your own. As tap water is generally not potable, you should especially avoid uncooked foods.

Should you find your body in the uncomfortable position of rejecting food and water due to something you shouldn't have drunk, immediately find someone who speaks Arabic and send them to a local pharmacist and request a product known locally as "InterStop" (similar to co-phenotrope/Lomotil). This works better than any well-known western brands.



Ramadan is the 9th and holiest month in the Islamic calendar and lasts 29–30 days. Muslims fast every day for its duration and most restaurants will be closed until the fast breaks at dusk. Nothing (including water and cigarettes) is supposed to pass through the lips from dawn to sunset. Non-Muslims are exempt from this, but should still refrain from eating or drinking in public as this is considered very impolite. Working hours are decreased as well in the corporate world. Exact dates of Ramadan depend on local astronomical observations and may vary somewhat from country to country. Ramadan concludes with the festival of Eid al-Fitr, which may last several days, usually three in most countries.

  • 11 March – 9 April 2024 (1445 AH)
  • 1 March – 29 March 2025 (1446 AH)
  • 18 February – 19 March 2026 (1447 AH)
  • 8 February – 8 March 2027 (1448 AH)

If you're planning to travel to Iraq during Ramadan, consider reading Travelling during Ramadan.

The Iraqis in general are humble, hospitable and down-to earth.

General etiquette[edit]

  • The Iraqis are indirect communicators. They are tempered by the need to save face and they will avoid saying anything that could be construed as critical, judgmental, or offensive. This said, the Iraqis value transparency and openness and they take words at face value.
  • Sincerity and genuineness are highly valued in Iraq. Don't say something if you don't mean it. Don't say "next time" if there isn't going to be a "next time".
  • Iraqis are personable and often talk about themselves. Iraqi society values transparency.
  • Never beckon an Iraqi person directly, even if they have done something wrong in your opinion. The Iraqis are quite sensitive to being beckoned directly, and it is considered very rude manners.
  • Never show the soles of your feet to others. This may be considered very disrespectful by most Iraqis, unless you are in the company of friends. When in the company of friends, it's still best to excuse yourself before putting your feet up in the air with the soles of your feet in the direction of any person.
  • Don't spit in public or in the direction of others, even when obviously done without malice. It is extremely rude.
  • Don't talk someone down for having poor English skills. Many Iraqis can speak English, usually as a second language. The Iraqi accent can be a little hard to understand at first. Making condescending statements such as "You speak very good English" is extremely rude.

Things to avoid[edit]


  • Politics is a highly sensitive issue in Iraq. Most Iraqis express frustration towards the government and Iraqi politics are quite complex. You could immediately be seen as uninformed if you don't follow Iraqi news closely.
  • Be careful when discussing Saddam Hussein's regime. It may bring up bad memories for some people. This is especially true in Iraqi Kurdistan. In some circles (particularly among Ba'athist Iraqis), people may be offended by the suggestion that he was a brutal dictator.
  • Show extreme respect when discussing the Anfal campaign. In Iraqi Kurdistan, it is a highly emotional issue and the event prompted many Kurds to escape Iraq and Saddam Hussein's repressive and brutal regime.
  • Be careful when discussing the Iran-Iraq war. It may bring up bad memories for some people.
  • Be careful when discussing Kurdish independence. It is quite a sensitive issue in Iraqi Kurdistan.


  • Avoid critcising or speaking badly about religion. Even highly-educated Iraqis won't appreciate it.


This country travel guide to Iraq is an outline and may need more content. It has a template, but there is not enough information present. If there are Cities and Other destinations listed, they may not all be at usable status or there may not be a valid regional structure and a "Get in" section describing all of the typical ways to get here. Please plunge forward and help it grow!