blakep76 wrote:I was there in February and would say Callum T's assessment a few posts up is 100% accurate. I crossed in by land from Turkey and flew out of Erbil. Felt very stable, relatively economically prosperous, and without fail everyone I met was welcoming and happy to see tourists. Great food and stunning scenery. A lot of history, both ancient and recent. It felt like a real adventure. I'm very happy I went.
It's obviously not 100% safe. Whilst it has been unfairly lumped in the same 'Do Not Travel' category as the rest of Iraq by most countries' Foreign affairs departments, the warnings do also have somewhat of a valid basis and the ubiquitous armed guards and military checkpoints exist for a reason. A lot of ISIS fighters went underground in the region when it was obvious their use of conventional military tactics was going to see them lose. While I was there, there were 7 or 8 ex-Mosul fighters captured in Erbil and Sulaymaniah (one had featured in ISIS propaganda videos beheading prisoners), mushroom farmers being executed in the hills around Makhmour, car bombs in the outskirts of Mosul, which both whilst technically Arab Iraq are only a stone's throw from Erbil and 'civilization'. The Peshmerga also can arrest anyone they feel like for the flimsiest of reasons and hold them indefinitely. I used an English speaking driver for a couple of days who had been imprisoned for a month and held in a cell with drug smugglers and ex-Daesh for taking an American tourist to a restricted area inside Kurdistan in 2018. I was grabbed in Erbil and required to show the contents of my SD card to the neighborhood security chief after taking a photo of a 'no guns' street sign. A little tense at first, but good natured and friendly once it was obvious I was just a clueless tourist.
The Kurds are a stoic people, but in talking to them based on their history you get the impression they consider the current situation of relative stability to be a temporary lull, and that there is more sh1t on the way, be it interfactional fighting amongst the Kurdish political groups, a stronger military presence from Turkey (bombings, more soldiers on the ground, sponsored militia causing disruptions), land grabs from Arab Iraq etc.
So yeah - for the time being visit. Watch what you take photos of, tell your driver to slow down (the roads and driving are still probably the biggest threat to your health) and don't lose that passport, because god only knows how you'd get a replacement.
I also heard of tourists who had been smuggled into Kirkuk, Mosul, or even a couple of years ago into the frontline ISIS areas, but this is mostly through a combination of bribes and fixers, and hence highly illegal. If you get caught you're going to jail. An Iraqi jail! And doubtful you'd get too much consular assistance. If you *really* have an interest to carry on travel into the rest of Iraq do it the legal way and obtain a visa/guide.
Thanks for your great information!! Do you also know what the restricted areas inside Kurdistan are?