INTRO NORTHERN IRAQ
When: 20th April- 08th May, 2007
How I moved: buses and shared taxis are the rule, since neither trains nor domestic flights inside Kurdistan are operative. Private taxis are quite expensive and often the only choice (if you want to bypass Mosul or Kirkuk); anyway they get affordable if you can share with travel-mates.
Freezing or baking?: wonderful temperature in April- May when a sweater is enough. In winter it gets below zero (no heating in the hotels!) while in summer it's a furnace. Anyway the mountains can be a fresh relief!
Where I slept: cheap accommodations ranging from 10$ ot 20$: dull and basic rooms with shared bathroom, but furnished with TV and satellite, funny isn't? In some towns just one hotel, but likely you'll be the only one guest
What I liked: the people and their hospitality; it's truly great! To breath the Kurdish pride and see Kurdistan in a unique moment in his history. I loved the non-existing bribery.
What I disliked: what is a hassle is at the same time vital for the stability of Kurdistan and for your safety: I mean check points and questioning wherever you are. We can't blame them though. The worst was the iraqi-turkish border crossing: four bloody hours!
How much daily: Iraqi Kurdistan is not for free!. Accommodations are around 15$, eating is a cheap stuff, but transportation can take most of your budget (Dohuk-Erbil 13$). At the end it turned out hard to live with less than 45$.
Dangers/ hassles: at the time of writing inside Kurdistan it was relatively safe, while Mosul and Kikuk were off-limits: take into account you are likely to pass through or very near them.. Things change quickly up there, so keep updated (LP thorn tree iraqi section) and travelling outside the Kurdish region it's a quick way to commit suicide.
to bring: your passport always with you and firm nerves
when passing around Mosul. Awareness of where you are, where you can go,
and where you CANNOT GO!!
THE TRAVEL IN IRAQ
I flew directly from Wien to Erbil, the capital of
the Iraqi Kurdistan. The flight was by Austrian Airlines, but since the
end of August 2007 it doesn't operate anymore. Outside Erbil airport a
brand new German bus took me for free till the first checkpoint (around
2km). Here I agreed a lift by car to the 15km further city centre. In
Erbil I felt at ease and, while hanging around, I got acquainted quite
soon with a Kurdish guy. Together we visited the citadel, the parks, the
bazaar and finally he invited me at his house for dinner.
At the time of writing Iraqi Kurdistan was a relatively stable area, at least compared to the turbulent rest of the country. This thanks to the massive presence of the Kurdish army (Peshmerga) that controls the region by hundreds of check points, in particular on the ways entering the three main cities (Erbil, Sulaimaniyah, Dohuk). Iraqi Kurdistan is not the heaven for travellers (definitely not plenty of highlights) and mine isn't a recommendation to travel there. However if you are interested in a population who has been struggling to have an international recognition for years, now it's a unique moment. In Iraq the Kurdish culture, who has been forbidden by the past regime, now flourishes as never. You can breathe an atmosphere of hope and optimism, although the situation is still far from being resolved. The last but not the least, all the area is characterised by the amazing Kurdish hospitality, comparable only to the Iranian one: just this, could almost justify the travel.