Holiday in Hell? Iraqi tour operator promises safe passage

Tourists take pictures of a piece of pottery at the desert in Tello (ancient Girsu), Iraq (AFP Photo / Mehdi Lebouachera)
A tour operator is promising a “120 per cent safe” trip to Iraq that will “put a smile on your face.” That is, if one’s idea of fun is visiting a country ravaged by 10 years of war and insurgency.

­For intrepid British tourists willing to fork over £1,200, Iraq might be a dream destination. But for Fadhil Al-Saaegh, chief executive of tour operator Al-Rafidain, the adrenaline rush that comes with the risk of getting kidnapped or killed is not the only reason to visit Iraq.  

“Iraq has 12,000 recognized archaeological sites and there are probably another 6,000 waiting to be recognized. There is no other country on Earth that can match this,” he told the Daily Mail.  

While he admits few British tourists have thus far signed up for the adventure, Al-Saaegh is dead set on getting travelers to return to his country.  

One of the highlights of the tour is the Ishtar Gate, one of the original Seven Wonders of the World, built around 575 BC on the north side of Baghdad.  

However, little was left of the original gate – which was once a part of the Walls of Babylon – except the foundation and assorted rubble.  

Tourists will also be offered the chance to see the city of Basra which was under the control of British troops during the post-war occupation.  

While several airlines currently fly to Iraq, passenger flights to Baghdad via London will not resume until April.  Travel to the country was greatly restricted after the UN first imposed sanctions on Iraq prior to the first Gulf War.  

This is not the first time a travel firm has attempted to lure tourists back to the Cradle of Civilization.  In 2007, a British tour operator, Hinterland Travel, started arranging trips to the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, as well as other parts of the country.   

Tour groups who have visited the country have had few complaints regarding safety.  They were more frustrated by the seemingly endless series of checkpoints and the limited access to many of the country’s museums and monuments.