|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, 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 and the climate tends to be milder than in other parts 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.
- 1 Baghdad (بغداد) — capital of Iraq.
- 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.
- 10 Sulaimaniyah (سليمانى) — Iraqi Kurdistan's second city.
- 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 — 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 Nineveh (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.
- 6 Ur (أور) — the ruins of the ancient Sumerian city, best known for its giant step pyramid, the Great Ziggurat of Ur.
|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)|
|Time zone||UTC+03:00, UTC+04:00|
|Emergencies||112, 104 (police), 115 (fire department), 122 (emergency medical services), 100|
|edit on Wikidata|
- 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.
The next twenty-five years took a grinding toll on the country. A long war with neighbouring Iran in the 1980s cost hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of dollars. The invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and subsequent Gulf War caused further casualties, followed by civil war inside the country and a decade of international sanctions.
Iraq was invaded in 2003 by a US/UK-led coalition of forces, who removed Saddam Hussein from power, destroyed most of the country's infrastructure in bombings and missile strikes, and triggered intercommunal violence that resulted in millions of Iraqis fleeing into exile and many more internally displaced within the country. As of 2012, no foreign troops remained in Iraq; however, the United States has sent advisors back into Iraq in 2014 at the request of the Iraqi government, and others are based in Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. This is in connection with the fight against the "Islamic State" organization, which earlier in 2014 quickly captured large areas of Iraq and Syria primarily inhabited by Sunni Arabs, and proceeded to conduct wholesale murders of non-Sunni boys and men and enslavements of non-Sunni women and girls who fell under their power. An American-led coalition and Kurdish and Iraqi armed forces finally drove them out of the country in late 2017.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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)
- Republic Day (July 14)
- Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha (variable) Islamic religious observances
- Ashura (variable) Islamic religious observance
- Independence Day (October 3)
- Victory Day (December 10)
- Christmas (December 25)
All visitors to Iraq require a visa for entry. Contract and military personnel working for the U.S. Department of Defense are exempt from this visa policy, as long as they present a valid Common Access Card (CAC card) issued by the Department of Defense. This only holds true if you are flying into the military side of BIAP by Gryphon Air or on a military flight. If you fly into Baghdad International without an entry or working visa you will be deported.
For those entering the country without a visa, one can be purchased at most border crossings for USD80. 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 [dead link]. 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.
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 is Iraqi Airways that 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 as well as 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 has seen enormous growth and investment since 2003 due to being safer than the rest of Iraq and is the business hub for the region. International flights which were suspended in 2017 into Iraqi Kurdistan following a dispute with the central government have resumed.
Diplomats, private military contractors, and intelligence agents can use Gryphon Airlines. Gryphon offers flights between the military side of BIAP and Kuwait City.
Additional 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)
For those working for Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in Iraq, there are two charter airlines operating into BIAP. Skylink and AirServ operate frequent flights. Travel on either of these services requires sponsorship by your NGO to get you onto an approved traveller list maintained by each. Schedules and services can be irregular, and change frequently.
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 its 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.
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, these are available for hire, with an armed guard if required, from the British security company GENRIC [dead link] for GBP300 (USD460) approx.
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 etc.), 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 70km 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. This won't cost more than about TRY20. 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. As of July 2008, there was no visa fee at this border crossing.
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 (IQD5,000-10,000). 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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
- 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.
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. When accepting the offer, make sure they are not leaving Iraqi Kurdistan province.
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.
Arabic is the national language of Iraq, but English is so commonly spoken there that most travellers will get by in the various shops, markets and cafes. The downside is that speaking English will immediately identify you as an outsider. This is dangerous because of the strong underground network of Iraqis who inform attackers of possible target opportunities.
Kurdish is spoken in the Kurdistan region, in one of two varieties: Kurmanji and Sorani. Kurmanji is spoken in and around Duhok while Sorani is spoken in and around Erbil (Hewlar), Sulaymaniyah and Kirkuk. These two varieties are mutually unintelligible. However, Arabic is also widely spoken, and the number of speakers of English is on the rise.
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 have become household names throughout the world in the most recent conflict.
Exchange rates for Iraqi dinar
As of January 2020:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
Iraqi currency is the Iraqi dinar, denoted by the symbol "د.ع" (ISO code: IQD). Banknotes are issued in 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, 25,000, 50,000 dinars denominations. Coins, and banknotes in 250 and 500-dinar denominations 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 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.
Since the introduction of the new Iraqi dinar, its widespread acceptance and confidence has reduced the prominence of the US dollar, and many shopkeepers are now refusing to accept them. However, most people will still pay large hotel bills or rent payments using US dollars or euro due to the sheer 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 new dinar and US dollar 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
- Masgouf Considered as the national dish of Iraq. It is an open cut 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 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.
Though the Islamic State was driven out in late 2017, the political situation remains very unstable.
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.
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.
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.