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June 2nd 2007
Published: August 6th 2007
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Erbil - Dohuk - Suleimaniah - Erbil

Eight o'clock in the morning, I've just stepped out of the shower. There is a massive blast outside & our rustic hotel room starts to shake. I climb onto my bed & from the small window high up on the wall I can see a huge plume of black smoke starting to fill the sky.

Just a few miles away from us a suicide truck bomb has exploded outside a government office.

Five days earlier; The first lasting impression I have of this country is of a framed photograph in our hotel of US president George W. Bush standing side by side with Iraqi Kurdistan leader Massoud Barzani.

For the past few months in the Middle East (actually everywhere else we've ever been too) we've had the same conversations - Bush bad, people good. Blair bad, people good. Suddenly we are in a place where George W. Bush is apparently a popular man.

We are in Iraqi Kurdistan - the other side of Iraq, the place that you don't see on the tv every day. Iraqi Kurdistan is an autonomous region of Iraq that is normally considered very safe.
KurdKurdKurd

Erbil
While most of Iraq is inhabited by Arabs, the majority of the population here are Kurdish. The Kurds were brutally persecuted by Saddam Hussein, but today this is the only part of Iraq said to be free from bombs, kidnap & torture. It is an area that is traditionally rich in history & culture & which today is enjoying booming economic success.

Arriving overland from Turkey at Ibrahim Khalil border we have no idea what to expect. Although we'd researched this part of the trip as much as we could, there's no guide book on the region & few other travellers to ask for information.

Crossing the border is easy, we leave Turkey in a taxi & are driven through no man's land into Iraqi Kurdistan. We arrive at an office where we are sat down next to a tv & given tea. Eventually the immigration officer calls us over & asks a few random questions. Do we speak Kurdish? No. Do we speak Arabic? No. Farsi? Hindi? No. He makes some jokes, stamps our passports and we are in Iraqi Kurdistan. As far as international borders are concerned, we are in Iraq, as far as the Kurds
Hats  Hats  Hats

Erbil
are concerned we are in Kurdistan. The passport stamp says "Republic of Iraq - Kurdistan Region"

The entire time we are in Iraq we won't see a single Iraqi flag or emblem - every building, every badge, every soldier proudly displays the Kurdish flag. The whole Kurdistan region stretches from Turkey (where there are 12 million Kurds) to Syria, North East Iraq & into Iran. Although Kurds have lived on this land since 2 BC, far longer than any of their neighbours, they have never had a land to call their own. The autonomous region within Iraq is the closest any have come.

We'd heard good things about Kurds & they easily live up to their reputation - we found this out before we even made it to Kurdistan. Our one night spent in Turkey was in the Kurdish town of Silopi, where we met a few locals who bought us dinner & arranged our transport for the next day. Even so close to the border we hadn't been sure whether to cross or not, but the Kurds we met in Silopi quickly convinced that we would be safe.

Having cleared the border we exchange some dollars into Iraqi Dinar & jump in a taxi for the one hour trip to Dohuk. It's a nice car, clean & modern. Our driver is a traditionally dressed Kurd who speaks no English. For much of the drive we are surrounded by green hills & mountains. We drive along a well paved dual carriageway. We are in Iraq, but everything is normal. Well, almost. Our driver is insane, but then we had heard that the drivers here are some of the worst. There are roadworks on our side of the dual carriageway so we spend much of the time the wrong side of the road. There's no signage, no one really knows who should be driving where, we just cross back & forth, occassionally dodging oncoming traffic.

On arrival in Dohuk we find a hotel, The Perleman, the place where the first thing I notice is the photo of George W. Bush & Massoud Barzani.

Dohuk, 73km (45 miles) north of Mosul is a small town & it doesn't take long to explore on foot. There's the usual bustling Middle Eastern bazar, normal shops & normal restaurants. We find a place for lunch & from the window I
LocalsLocalsLocals

I'm not entirely sure what he is doing to make Kylie laugh like that... Dohuk
can see life, normal everyday life. There's cellphone shops, butchers, internet cafe's, cars, billboards & a lot of people. Everything is normal. There's a few police around, a few soldiers (the Kurdish 'Peshmerga'), but far less obvious presence than we've seen in other countries recently.

We explore the bazaar - some people are friendly & talk to us, a few are curious. When looking at Kurdish material belts one woman insists on telling me which colour to buy. A group of traditionally dressed Kurdish men poses for photos after James buys a hat & scarf. A lot of people just ignore us, we are apparently as normal to them as their life seems to us.

The following day we move on to Suleimaniah (also spelt Sulymania, Sulaymaniyah, Sulemany, Suly & any other way you see fit), a four hour taxi ride away. As we hit the highway & head out into the countryside we pass a sign that points to a turning that leads right to Baghdad & Mosul; it's at times like this that you forget the green hills around you & remember where you are. Most of the few travellers who make to Iraqi Kurdistan travel
Greetings From Iraq Greetings From Iraq Greetings From Iraq

Unfortunately there's no postcards from Kurdistan. These vintage ones still feature things like the statues of Saddam Hussein; Erbil
by taxi, busses generally being considered too dangerous. The various journeys we take would have passed through or nearby to Mosul or Kirkuk had we taken the public bus or even a normal shared taxi. Although we are never that far from Arab controlled Iraq, we are always well within Kurdistan.

Throughout the journey to Sulymania we are treated to panoramas of snow capped mountains, lush green valleys and the odd nomad with their tents & goats. It's hardly what you expect to see anywhere within the Iraq border. Along the route are plenty of Kudish Peshmerga checkpoints, all there to keep the region free of trouble. Most of the time we pass with a smile or a nod, other times they half heartedly check a passport.

Suleymania is a big city but once again the people are friendly & hospitable. Conversations follow the usual pattern 'Hello, welcome to our country, where are you from?' and then 'What are you doing here?' The usual reply of 'We are tourists' is consistently misheard as 'We are terrorists'

Wandering the market we are warned by a friendly local when a market trader tries to rip us off. Walking around
Victory Victory Victory

Kurds over Saddam, near Erbil
town, even well after dark I feel safer than I would at pub closing time in England.

It's ironic that today it is Kurdistan that is considered safe while much of the rest of Iraq engages in civil war. Kurdistan is now the place that Iraqi Arabs want to move to, to escape the daily bloodshed. Yet just a few years ago it was the Kurds who lived in fear. The Arabs that escaped oppression under Saddam's regime are those heading to live beside the Kurds the people who were previously the most deprived and isolated under him.

After months of being surrounded by friendly & hospitable Arabs in the Middle East, it's strange to be surrounded by Kurds who tell you that it is the Arabs that populate the rest of Iraq that are the dangerous ones causing all the trouble. What Kurds don't tell you is that if you head north into Turkey, beyond the Kurdish region, there are plenty of people there who will tell you that in fact it's the Kurds who are the dangerous ones. As we will later find out the Turkish side of the Turkey/Iraqi Kurdistan border is very heavily fortified
Money Changer Money Changer Money Changer

You know you're in a safe country when there's piles of money sitting around on street corners; Dohuk
& there
are apparently regular incursions into Turkey by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The Turkish government feels the situation is so bad that they are currently deploying more troops to the region & are threatening military action.

Sulymania is home to Iraq's first War Crimes Museum, known as Amna Suraka by the Kurds & the Red Security Building by Saddam Hussein & the Arabs. This is where you begin to learn why the Kurds feel the way they do about Arabs. While parts of the former torture centre have been rebuilt, much has been left as it was when it was full of Kurdish prisoners, many living out their final days.

The building was taken over by Saddam's forces in 1985 & quickly gained an infamous reputation for its barbaric torture methods. In 1991 a Kurdish uprising secured the release of hundreds of detainees & much remains as it was found then.

As we enter the main building we pass some of Saddam's tanks & rocket launchers. Narrow external corridors are roofed with barbed wire, blocking any possible escape route across the top. Inside we walk though cell after cell after cell; in some are
Baghdad & Mosul Baghdad & Mosul Baghdad & Mosul

outside Dohuk
reconstructions of
torture methods involving electrical wires & ropes. In one room an audiotaped interrogation plays over & over again. We are shown small single person cells & then large caged rooms, the floors still covered with the only furniture, blankets. We notice graffiti on a small cell wall. The young guide tells us that the occupant was a teacher. Other cells are full of graffiti too, in one the pencil drawn image is that of a haunting face. In another a calender has been scratched onto the wall, just a few of the days are crossed off. In a large cell that also held young children is the obvious image of a cartoon superhero.

By coincidence there was an article in the local newspaper about Amna Suraka while we were there. It translated a number of the phrases that were carefully written on the walls. Perhaps the final words & thoughts of those condemned to death.

We leave the main building & pass Saddam Hussein's tanks again. We're led to a basement full of enlarged photographs taken around the time of Saddam's genocidal chemical attacks on the Kurdish people at the nearby town of Halabja. If it
Mosque Mosque Mosque

& Hamman roof, Erbil
was possible to have even the remotest of sympathy for Saddam Hussein, this is a good place to come & be reminded of what he did.

Before we leave we are given a sets of postcards; on each card is a gruesome image of a a person or a place; the very vivid aftermath of the deadly chemical attack. It's hard to know what saddens me mosts about the place; the fact that it happened at all, the fact that we've seen very similar places in a number of other countries or the fact that events like this are undoubtedly still going on somewhere in the world today.

At least things have improved for the four million Kurds in Iraq. Following a campaign for independence in 1961 they were offered greater official recognition and freedom but then denied it, instead suffering brutal repression under Saddam. After the 1991 Gulf War two million fled to Turkey and Iran but soon after, under UN supervision the Kurdish Autonomous Region was created. Since then the area has seen relative peace. Following the fall of Saddam it was feared that the Kurds would begin a new fight for true independence, but they
Beads Beads Beads

Across the Middle East you often see men walking around thumbing their prayer beads; Sulymania
didn't. They won 17% of the national vote in the 2005 election, & although he doesn't have a huge amount of power, the national Iraqi president is a Kurd, Jalal Talabani. The Kurds no longer live in repressed isolation, they are now key players in the rebuilding of a peaceful & unified Iraq.

Moving on from the past we step back outside the torture centre into modern Kurdistan. Around the corner is a well stocked supermarket with a cafe selling pizza to trendy young adults. Along the road are hotels, travel agents & a large green park. Back at our cheap hotel the rooms may be very basic but we can still watch Friends & the BBC on the 300+ tv channels.

On the way back to the town centre we stumble upon the local museum which contains all manner of relics from the past few thousand years. This whole region is bursting with yet to be exploited ancient sites & ruins. Before leaving the ancient past contained within the museum we are reminded of the fragile infrastructure in Iraqi Kurdistan today - there's yet another power cut & the visit is cut short.

Back at the
Backgammon Backgammon Backgammon

Kurdish Textile Museum; Erbil
market we shop for some of the Kurdish music which always seems to be blasting out from the numerous cd & mp3 shops. Later as the sun sets the streets fill with traders & shoppers we enjoy some sweet black tea as Kurdish flags fly all around us.

To get to our next destination we head to the taxi terminal, way out on the edge of town. As we barter the price for our ride, other drivers around us are touting for travellers to head elsewhere. Behind me is a car full of people heading to Mosul. I find a driver who is about to leave for Baghdad. In theory the only thing stopping us from going with them is our sanity.

For every person we meet who tells us not to go to Baghdad, Mosul or Kirkuk, another asks if we are planning to visit one of these places, as if it were a perfectly normal thing to do. With most people you just have to mention Baghdad or Mosul for them to put their hand to their throat & mime it being slit. Most Kurds tell us they wouldn't even venture into Arab controlled Iraq -
Kurdish DancingKurdish DancingKurdish Dancing

Sulymania
we are repeatedly told that Kurdistan & the Kurds are peaceful & safe, it's just the Arabs you need to worry about.

Like some other people we've met in the Middle East the Kurds often struggle to differentiate between leaders, normal people & so called insurgents. As far as they are concerned it's not just Saddam & his regime that were bad, it's all Arabs too. Somehow they alway recognise the difference between Bush & the American people & Blair & the Brits.

We may joke with Kurds about travelling to Mosul or Baghdad, but it doesn't take much to be reminded of how serious the situation really is. After buying a soft drink one day we are invited to sit down to drink it. As usual we get talking; the young man is an Arab, he came here from Baghdad. The conversation has taken the usual 'where are you from?' pattern when he mentions almost in passing, that one of his children was killed. It's a very sobering moment & it's hard to know what to say next. The places we are in may be normal, but there's very few miles between us & all the bloodshed.
Beads Beads Beads

Local antique & bead dealer; Dohuk
It's impossible to comprehend what it must be like to live there, to be confronted with such danger every day.

The taxi ride out of Sulymania takes us through yet more mountains & valleys, past lakes, villages & lush green scenery - at one point on the horizon we can see the snowy peaks that mark the border with Iran. Finally we arrive in the Iraqi Kurdistan capital, Erbil (Hawler in Kurdish & also known as Arbil, Irbil, Hewler & Howler). Much like the other taxi drivers here, this one was far more interested in what was going on around him than what was on the road ahead.

Erbil is a modern city that sprawls for miles around the base of the ancient citadel. At the top of a small hill, the high citadel walls hide from view below the rambling narrow streets & alleys of the old town, said to have been the longest continually inhabited town on earth.

Climbing up to the hill we have no idea what to expect. Behind the walls we find a deserted city. The streets are quiet, the houses all empty. It is a rare chance to explore the world behind the high walls & solid doorways that are so common in these ancient Middle Eastern towns. The mud brick homes vary in size, but follow a similar pattern - a small enclosed courtyard, a two storey building & an outside toilet. Looking around the dusty shells of homes, we try to work out how long ago it was abandoned. In one we see a calender from 1998, in another a roll of developed camera film. There's power lines & street signs as well as the suggestion of running water. It's a surreal & mysterious place, easily far more interesting than other 'dead' cities we've seen around the world.

On the edge of the town is a disused hammam (bathhouse) & a mosque, near them a Kurdish textile museum. Although it doesn't sound thrilling, the museum is a highlight - it's full of intricately woven rugs, kilims & felts. Alongside them are traditional hats, clothes & every day Kurdish artefacts. It's here that I first realise just how rich in culture the Kurdish people are. Saddam Hussein did a lot to destroy the traditional ways of the Kurds & sadly much of what we see in the museum would
Amna Suraka Amna Suraka Amna Suraka

Saddam's tanks; Sulymania
be hard to find out in modern Iraqi Kurdistan today. This visit we only have the time & money (it is very expensive here) to see a handful of places, but perhaps next time we'll get lost in the mountains where there's still plenty of nomads, traditional culture & stunning scenery.

We get talking to Lolan, the friendly owner of the museum & he fills us in on the strange town that we have found ourselves in. The inhabitants only left six months ago; most were refugees that had moved to the town in the 1970's - although they had made the place their home, they never owned the properties & the town & sewage system (or lack of it) could no longer cope with the growing population. The familes were relocated & given US$4000 (£2000) and 250 square metres of land each. Apparently they were all glad to move on. There's plans for redevelopment, excavations & one day a tourist attraction with boutique hotels & restaurants. It was hard to get an answer to whether or not the excavations will take place before or after the rebuilding - there's a few thousand years of history buried in the
Lakes & Mountains Lakes & Mountains Lakes & Mountains

Far on the horizon is Iran; Sulymania - Erbil
sand & dust under some of those houses.

Below the museum is shop selling perhaps the best collection of souvenirs that we can't afford yet. As we browse through the backgammon sets, musical instruments & colourful clothes that we can't afford, a few American & British soldiers pass through & spend a fortune. Kurdistan is apparently the place that the troops come when they need a break, a holiday from the carnage they normally live with in Arab Iraq. These ones have probably travelled from Mosul just 84km (52 miles) away. Although they are off duty some still wear fatigues, all wear a huge I.D. badge, most seem to carry guns. I may have never supported the war & I may be surrounded by people who want the so called occupying forces to leave, but I do feel some notion of respect for these soldiers.

We didn't talk to any soldiers, but did meet a Kurd who left twenty-seven years ago to live in America. He was back for the first time since he left, for a wedding. At home in the States he works for the military, teaching soldiers & marines what to expect when they arrive here. He teaches them arabic & kurdish as well how to 'not to look stupid, but instead how to kick ass' when they arrive.

In theory the Kurds are supposed to support the Americans - I thought the photo of Bush when we arrived confirmed that. By finally removing Saddam Hussein, the Americans finally freed the Kurds from the endless cycle of oppression they were used to. However no one is happy with the situation today. I asked numerous people about it. "Should the troops stay? should the troops go?". Most gave the same response "Troops stay bad, troops go bad". No one really had a suggestion for a solution. I ask another question What is worse, the past under Saddam Hussein or the situation without him now? the answer is similar, Saddam bad, now bad. Everyone I ask wants the occupying forces to leave, but what no-one mentions is that if or when the forces leave & the Sunnis & Shiites finally unite, it may not be such a good thing for the Kurds. A unified Sunni/Shiite Arab government could spell disaster for them.

Erbil is the place to come for your 'Welcome to Iraq' postcards &
Amna Suraka Amna Suraka Amna Suraka

Blankets. Cell; Sulymania
Iraqi football team shirts. Like perhaps every town in the Middle East it houses a rambling market - although that may some day change. International money is suddenly flowing into the city & much like other places we've seen around the world, the future & progress apparently means shopping malls. Hence a giant mall is being built just beyond the shadow of the ancient citadel & bazaar.

A taxi driver we met was keen to take us out exploring, so not long before sunset we set off to leave the city & find some small towns & villages. We haven't been driving long when we spot a wedding party in a field. Before we know it we have joined hands with the guests & are trying to dance along to the loud Kurdish music, stealing the attention & cameras away from the disgruntled looking bride. Moving on we pass through the town of Corwi near the Korak mountain range. Here, between two spurs, was a bloody battle between the Kurdish Peshmarga & Saddam's troops. A couple of tanks & a mural stands a reminder of what happened.

On the way to our destination we pass a few castles
Head ScarfHead ScarfHead Scarf

James gets a lesson on how to fold it; Dohuk
& forts. Having an English speaking driver, we ask what he knows about them. He tells us matter of factly 'This was one of Saddam's homes, that is a two thousand year old castle, this was one of Saddam's prisons' We stop to photograph one castle, not realising that behind it, on the horizon is one of Saddam's former palaces, now home to leader Massoud Barzani. When we reach the next checkpoint, the Peshmargeh are not happy. It was an easy & innocent mistake to make, but the consequences could be messy. I show him the photographs of the castle & luckily he lets us move on.

Eventually we arrive in Shaqlawa a small town at the foot of the mountains. We drive through & already it's time to turn back & head for the city. Our driver tells us that this is a muslim & a christian town as if that is something special. On one side of the street are muslims, the other christians; sometimes the two faiths even inter marry. Night falls, the driving is erratic, the soundtrack is a neverending cycle of 80's one hit wonders Modern Talking & 90's boy band Blue.

The
Head ScarfHead ScarfHead Scarf

...and how to wear it; Dohuk
next day we are due to leave at 9am. We have the same driver booked to drive us to the border, four hours to the north.

Eight o'clock in the morning, I've just stepped out of the shower. There is a massive blast & our rustic hotel room starts to shake. I climb onto my bed & from the small window high up on the wall I can see a huge plume of black smoke filling the sky.

The moment we hoped would never happen.

Not sure what to do, I run downstairs to see what the staff & other guests are doing. Fluorescent light bulbs have shattered, there's glass all over the floor. No one seems that phased. One person tells me in broken english that it was a plane. We soon learn that it was the obvious, some kind of bomb. Thinking that these things sometimes happen in clusters, we wonder what's best to do. Should we stay in the room or go downstairs? We are due to leave in less that an hour, but will the taxi make it through?

We wait & hope. Outside a shopkeeper opens a metal shutter - it
Striped Striped Striped

Another Kurd; Dohuk
makes a loud bang, making us all jump with fear. At 9am the taxi arrives & we leave.

It's not over yet; just down the road there is already a police roadblock. We try another route & leave town. The border is just a few hours away, but the journey seems to last forever. News reports come though on the radio, the number of dead & injured rapidly climbing. At checkpoints the Peshmarga become more disciplined & our driver tells us to say we are coming from Sulymania, not Erbil to ease our passage. At one checkpoint the traffic queue leads back for what seems like miles. Has the road ahead been blocked, the whole area sealed? We selfishly overtake the other cars & trucks & make it through. But still it's not over.

We'd heard that leaving Iraqi Kurdistan could be quite an ordeal - massive queues, lots of questions & very thorough searches. The Turkish authorities don't recognise or like Kurdistan & we had been told that they are particularly interested in people like us who have travelled there. Our bags are full of Kurdish maps, tshirts, cd's, newspapers & keyrings - will this be our
TortureTortureTorture

Amna Suraka; Sulymania
downfall?

By the time we reach the border our driver appears to be an emotional wreck. The journey took forever & it will take him a lot longer on the way back. I'm sure he's been crying and he's sweating & shaking. He's as shocked as we are, things like this aren't supposed to happen in Kurdistan. We bid him a rushed farewell & hope that while he makes it home quickly & safely, we'll get across the border swiftly too.

For a moment it appears that the border may actually have been closed - following the morning's events it wouldn't come as a surprise. Luckily it's not. It takes us a few hours to cross, most of the time we are sat by another taxi in a traffic queue on the bridge that crosses a river & marks the border & no man's land between Iraq & Turkey. As we wait the cars move on one by one. Sweating, thirsty & choking on petrol fumes I look around at the scenery - a gentle flowing river, green hills all around. Little do they reveal about the hostile border that they mark. We are told that truck drivers
Normal Normal Normal

Dohuk
may spend a week or two waiting to cross this border, but it doesn't make our wait any easier.

Fortunately we are accompanied by a Turkish man who works as a teacher in Erbil. He speaks good English & keeps us up to date with our progress, explaining also that we each have to carry two cartons of cigarettes for the driver. An extremely young soldier with a big gun waves us through & we reach the Turkish bag search. Despite us pretending to carry the driver's 'over the limit' cigarette stash & with our Kurdish souvenirs well hidden we pass with ease. Perhaps they aren't interested in stickers & cd's, maybe it drugs & guns that they are really after. The immigration officer jokes with us & finally we are back in Turkey. It was slow, but it was easy.

Back in the hotel at Silopi we eagerly await the news on the BBC & Al Jazeera for a more detailed report of what happened. But what's another bomb in Iraq? It's not anything big or new, even though it's in the safe Kurdish region. The blast does get a mention, but only as a sideline to
Babies Babies Babies

In Asia babies always seem to be in backpacks like this; In the Mid East they always seem to be carried (rather inconveniently) in people's arms. Traditionally, Kurds use these; Erbil
a bigger Iraq story about Dick Cheney's visit to Baghdad the same day. Later we check online but there's barely a mention there either.

It was easy for us to leave, but what of those we left behind? Back in the apparent safety of Turkish hotel room I feel a little guilt. Somehow it's the same as numerous other places I've been - places like Burma, North Korea, Iran & Indonesia, places where people live with poverty, dictators, no freedom or threats of war. In almost every country I've been to there are plenty who just want to live with freedom & peace or perhaps want to leave or, but can't. We stroll in, meet a few people, see the sights, take a few photos, eat the food & leave again.

Is Kurdistan really so safe after all? As we were leaving, our driver had told us that the suicide bomber was an Arab, it couldn't have been a Kurd. It's still safe he tells us. Were we mad or stupid to go to this region of Iraq in the first place? Would we go back? Would I recommend it to anyone else?

Statistically there's perhaps a
Music Shop Music Shop Music Shop

Everyone was playing the new cd by the guy with the moustache. You can buy a burnt copy for about a dollar; Sulymania
greater risk that you'll be hit by an act of terror in London or New York. Yet no-one tells you not to go to England or the USA. I remember arriving at home in England years ago, to see that a station I had just passed though in London had been hit by a bomb just half an hour after I was there. No-one was really interested at the time & no-one said don't go back to London. Bombs exploded in Bangkok in December, tourists were killed. We were there a few weeks later but no-one told us to keep away. Statistically you are far more likely to be raped, murdered or just mugged in any western country than you are to be inconvenienced in any way in most of the Middle East, including Kurdistan.

Throughout the Middle East part of our trip we've had people tell us we'll get shot or kidnapped. I met an American family in Jordan who were shocked that we were going to Syria, not that they could think of a reason why it may be dangerous. I asked where they were going next - the answer was Israel. I may be mistaken, but
Kurdistan Kurdistan Kurdistan

The unofficial region, including parts of Turkey, Iraq, Iran & Syria
I remember seeing far more trouble & bloodshed on the news about Israel than I've ever seen about Syria.

Hopefully our Mid East blogs have convinced a few people that there's a lot more to the region than you see on the news. Like the rest of the region, the people in Kurdistan are friendly & hospitable. They buy us drinks, they give us their phone numbers & tell us to call them if we ever need any help. The bomb was as much of an unexpected shock to them as it was to us.

Until the moment the bomb went off in Erbil the scariest thing about being in Iraqi Kurdistan was the taxi drivers. I would say that if we went back, the feeling would still be the same.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Thanks to users of Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree Travel Forum and to
'backpackiraq' for the excellent advice & information:

Backpackiraq Website

Thorn
Tree Iraq


Travelblog is banned in Iran where I am writing this; There are ways around the system, but it means that it's taken a lot longer than
Football Football Football

The international language; Sulymania
normal. Another result is tht the photos (of which there are as always very many) are probably quite low quality.

Finally, you can longer text us, all of our numbers have expired


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Imam Reza; Sulymania
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The high wall that hide the old city; Erbil
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2nd June 2007

Where is Kurd?
I live in East of Turkey and im Turkish and there aren't any kurdish in my motherland. This mas is wrong and imaginary. Kurdish pepole can see your government only in dream..... :
2nd June 2007

Thank-you for such a rare and precious opportunity to learn about this beautiful area. Seems like a great place to visit, once the Iraqi situation is stabilized.
3rd June 2007

So Jealous
this is the exact trip that i set out on a few years ago but i had a very different experience and ended up in jail in Arbil. It is so noce to read about sulemania and erbil. Thank you http://www.travelblog.org/Middle-East/Iraq/Middle-of-Nowhere/blog-129924.html
22nd June 2007

thanks for the postcarad
It was a lovely surprise to get the postcard from you and we a re just sitting here stunned by your amazing blog. Will have to sit down and have good look.
4th September 2007

wonderful pics and report
Thank you for sharing this wonderful report and these great pictures with the world :) I appreciated it and hope to visit these places too very soon. Happy travels Luv Nicola
7th September 2007

awesome!
how did you get into iraq???? i've been searching for ways to visit. i was in the mid east last year but never made it to kurdistan. i'm from the US so i'm guessing it would be really hard to get a tourist visa there... did you use an agency? how! do you have a virtualtourist.com account as well?
8th September 2007

Iraq
Blake - getting into the Kurdish region of Iraq is surprisingly easy. You can cross from near the Turkish town of Silopi & you don't even need a visa. Many Kurdish people like George W Bush, so you may be surprised to find you are quite welcome. Crossing into Arab controlled Iraq is not so easy (or safe). Although there are plenty of taxi drivers who would gladly take you to Baghdad you are supposed to have a visa & you will most likely not live to tell the tale. Most people suggested that as westerners we would be beheaded......
14th September 2007

KURDISTAN
KURDISTAN IS MY COUNTRY MY Heart ananizi sikim turkler Kürd irki Sagolsun
27th November 2007

How to go to Iraqi Kurdistan
easy Austrian Airlines have twice flight aweek Vienna-Erbil, and other flights from Stockholm, Frankfurt, London, Amsterdam, Munchen, Dusseldorf, Copenhagen, istanbul, Beirut, Amman, Cairo, Dubai with some othr Airlines including Kurdistan Air Lines
7th December 2007

Thanks!
Hi, I live in Iraqi-Kurdistan and I am glad that you are playing the part to open other people's eyes. It has some truly beautiful places. But it still has a long way to go and many of the people have very little hope for the future.
4th January 2008

Fantastic
Hi Just to let you know i found your information very useful. I am planning on travelling to kurdistan in the next year. Do you know of any websites or books i could get to get further information, also do you think it is ok to fly straight to kurdistan or would you not recommend it?
20th February 2008

emma
I went there during the summer with my American passport. You can get your visa once you arrive in Kurdistan. Going through Turkey or flying there directly does not make a difference safety wise. Although, if you go through Turkey then you'll get to see northern Kurdistan as well, and that is what I did. God Bless.
2nd March 2008

Kurdistan
I leaved in eastern turkey and they are all kurds but the imported milltary to supress the kurdish nation. This map is very correct and even smaller than it should be. Kurds lived in kurdistan long before turkish mongols invaded our land.
2nd March 2008

travel to kurdistan
You can have all the info u need from the following site; www.krg.com , alternativlly u can visit http://www.atroshair.com/ thank you
9th March 2008

I was born as Kurdish, am alive Kurdish and I'll die as kurdish. I'll wake-up as Kurdish again. Long live KURDISTAN
6th April 2008

Via Istanbul
I travelled alone to Kurdistan Iraq in February this year,f from London via istanbul. I didnt give it a thought but when I showed my British passport at the airport in Istanbul to go for the connecting flight I was questioned about why I was going to Sulaimani, and told that there was awar there.I took it all in good part, but the parting shot was "Next time you want to go for a holiday, go to Darfur". On the way back, a fortnight later, flights were delayed due to terrible weather and the Turks would not honour my ticket back to the UK although I called them in advance of the return flight (which I missed due to fog).After a night spent at the airport I had to buy a new ticketto london. Afterreading the paper at the airport waiting for the fog to clear, I was questioned and searched by security at Istanbul who selected me and two Kurdish men out for a search. I didnt know the men, and the reason for the search was because we had travelled from Sulaimani. However, there were other people at the airport who had also been on the delayed plane from Sulaimani who were waiting for a connection at Istanbul but security showed no interest in them. Just thought I would share this in case its not a isolated experience and people can be aware. Kurdistan was beautiful, the people friendly and very helpful.
24th June 2008

Kurdistan!
Thankyou for your blog here. I also visited Kurdistan and south Iraq this year and your comments and honest opinions were immensely helpful. Great photos! These days it's difficult to find unbiased information on this beautifu country.
12th October 2008

Kurdistan.
I have had the pleasure to get to know many people in the UK based Iraqi Kurdish community. They are a wonderful people who deserve a homeland! I pray for ALL kurds in Iraq, Iran,Syria and beyond,but especially the 12million in Turkey. Those I know have a wonderful sense of humour, put great importance on the family and just can not stop dancing and singing!I urge people to find out about this forgotten people and support their struggle for true international recognition AT LAST!!! PLEASE!!!!
4th November 2008

You are so lucky!
Hello! Amazing blog. I stumbled upon this while doing research on Kurdish music for a term paper. You've written this really well, thanks for showing this other side of Iraq. Cheers
15th May 2009

thank you
I ma kurdish guy from kurdistan of Iraq,I want to thank you to show other nation our culture ,to show every body that we want peace and we want live freely in or homeland,,,but unfortunately turkish people dont want to accept the reality of kurd and kurdistan even they deny 20 milions kurd in kurdistan of turkey. any way every body welcome to my homeland kurdistan of iraq. Rojvan from Erbil
11th July 2009

turksh nation are Animal nation in earth
when I see donkys in street I see turksh in street and leder of this donkys who name is attaturk say im big donkys in earth like my people.turksh are Cancer virous in this planet.
19th August 2009

No such a thing as kurdistan
I must say this! THERE IS NO SUCH A THING AS KURDISTAN. There never was and there will never be. The countries in which Kurds live are Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iraq. Period!
25th August 2009

Nice to see you made it home; long...long...journey. Very nice!! I hope you enjoyed spectecular Kurdistan (North Kurdistan occupied by Turkey pop. 30 Million, South Kurdistan...where you were..no longer occupied by Iraq pop. 7.5 milion, Eastern Kurdistan occupied by Iran pop. 13 million, Western Kurdistan occupied by Syria 2 million). If you ever in South Kurdistan (KRG), Duhok area....come by Gerdun Recreation and Fitness Center for some fun (good food, swimming, suana, steam room, jacuzzi, billiard tables, foosbal, air hockey, darts....
25th August 2009

Some websites to visit if planning a trip to South Kurdistan (KRG, Iraq): www.krg.org, www.kurdistanica.org, http://www.peyamner.com/default.aspx?l=4. The Kurds are very hospitable and welcoming to strangers and foreigners. They are extemely friendly to Americans and Westerners in general. The provinces of Duhok, Erbil and Suleimaniya are very safe and calm; it is as if it is not a part of Iraq the way it has bypassed all of the turbulence and violence. It is has its own president, prime minister, military and security forces. For Western visitors a VISA is not required. Do a lot of research before heading down there. It would be helpful to find a Kurd from the area to get more information from.
16th January 2010

Are you stupid.?
Ehm... you say Kurds are terrorist ? Do you know that kurds one of the best publics are ? I don't think that you know that. BE CAREFUL I SAY ONLY BE CAREFUL.
21st February 2010

visit Erbil from 18 Mar.to 28Mar.2010
Dear Sir, Thank you for your advertisment , we as a family(6 persons) are considered to visit your country during our new holidays for 2 purposes : 1- just visit and enjoying with our family 2- to find the opportinity for investing in Erbil if there is the relevant capacities. I request you if possible to book&rent us a small house 2 beds , WC, TV, Bath & dinning room, kitchen in the central city of Erbil. We are coming from IRAN/ Tamarchin land border. I would be appreciated if you inform me not later than 23 Feb.2010 that I will be able to make my Tour plan.
25th February 2010

RE visit Erbil from 18 Mar.to 28Mar.2010
Slightly confused by this; I couldn't haven't booked anything anyway as Parvin didn't provide contact details.
25th February 2010

RE Are you stupid.?
Um, I don't recall saying anyone is a terrorist (although I did say that we were witness to a suicide bomb). Someone else commented on my blog that Kurds are terrorists, not me. I have had a lot of pro/anti Kurd/Turkish comments on here, a number of which are far too hateful or too vulgar to publish...
20th March 2010

A fantastic journey
Hi guys, I just wanted to say this is the second time I've read through your complete blog entry now... the first was actually a couple of years ago. Still relevant and inspiring for travellers everywhere in the world to come to Kurdistan. Best wishes! Cheers, Shannon. www.kurdistan-adventures.com
4th April 2010

Thank you!
Hiya, thanks a lot for the beautiful blog, I come from Iraqi-Kurdistan myself and its honestly a great pleasure to read about my own ''country'' in such a way! x
11th December 2010

how can i get visa to go to kurdistan from indonesia?
hello there, i'm yanti from indonesia.i have planning that marry with kurdish man but he still in his country and will come to my country soon.I and him will marry in indonesia which is my country.After that I will move and live in kurdistan.but I don't know how to get visa so I can live in there.I searched in internet but still I don't have the right answer.It says that he must make me visa in kurdistan first then he sends it to iraqi embassy here in jakarta.is that as complicated as what they say to live in kurdistan for indonesian like me?? I read some comments in this blog and it says that i can make visa when i arrive in kurdistan.please tell me exactly what should I do ?? I'm waiting for your answer in my yahoo email,, thanks for your attention,

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