Travel safety in Iraqi Kurdistan?

Is the road, border or area open and accessible to foreigners? Is there danger?
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thijsbroekkamp
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Re: Travel safety in Iraqi Kurdistan?

Post by thijsbroekkamp »

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?
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blakep76
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Re: Travel safety in Iraqi Kurdistan?

Post by blakep76 »

I think in those days it was just close to the various frontlines, certain military installations and some mountainous regions on the Iranian border used by drug and booze smugglers - not really sure these days....similar?

I re-read my post and it sounds a little 'doom and gloom'. I think generally (with the addendum that things change all the time) as long as you have a bit of travel experience, listen to advice or warnings from the locals, and use some common sense you'll be absolutely fine.
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thijsbroekkamp
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Re: Travel safety in Iraqi Kurdistan?

Post by thijsbroekkamp »

Ah right, so nothing to much out of the ordinary.

At the moment Turkey is invading Kurdistan along the northern borders, those are obvious places to avoid of course.
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heightwithoutflight
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Re: Travel safety in Iraqi Kurdistan?

Post by heightwithoutflight »

Hey there,
I am intending to hitchhike from Marivan (Iran) through Sulaiman, Erbil and Dohuk towards Cizre (Turkey) - but this plan was made up before the current attacks of Turkey on Syria.
Not sure what the border region to Turkey and the turkish side is going to develop in the next 2,3 weeks: any ideas?
Anybody around there now?

Go for it or better take a detour?
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StephParis
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Re: Travel safety in Iraqi Kurdistan?

Post by StephParis »

heightwithoutflight wrote: Not sure what the border region to Turkey and the turkish side is going to develop in the next 2,3 weeks: any ideas?
Anybody around there now?

Go for it or better take a detour?
I'm not there and I've never been, but my first thoughts tell me it's a very long and tough border crossing on turkish side. You're coming from Kurdistan and Turkey is at war with the... Kurds. Even if Kurds are not the same in Iraq and Syria, it's still a tricky border.
That said, make you own risk assessment and be cautious. I don't think you risk anything, but crossing might a true hassle.
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togreiser
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Re: Travel safety in Iraqi Kurdistan?

Post by togreiser »

I was in Arbil and Lalish in medio September, so before the new attacks. I crossed the border with buss from Urmia in Iran.

I felt very safe back then. From watching CNN it looks still okay, but a little worse.

I have asked the guide I used. I will update you when he answers
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blakep76
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Re: Travel safety in Iraqi Kurdistan?

Post by blakep76 »

It's a tough call. The situation is so fluid right now involving so many key players (Turkey, Syria, Russia, Iran, Syrian Kurds, remnants of ISIS) clamoring for influence in a majorly strategic part of the Middle East - I'm not sure even the most knowledgeable Poli-Sci genius could hope to guess how things will be a couple of weeks from now. It could just fizzle, either the Syrians or Kurds resent the Turks occupying their turf and launch an organized counterattack, Russia makes the most of the power vacuum and decides to have a crack at Turkey and increase its influence in the region.... Who knows?

As for you visiting Iraqi Kurdistan and how it'll affect you heading onwards into Turkey....equally hard to say, but likely very little. A few days ago I spoke to a Kurdish driver I used earlier this year on Facebook Messenger and asked him if everything was okay on his (Iraq) side of the border and his answer was "business as usual", but that they were expecting some additional refugees to end up in the camps around Erbil. That was before the ceasefire.

Were I in your shoes I would carry on as planned, but, be prepared for some more intense questioning by Turkish border guards and military who are no doubt suspicious as to why foreigners are in that area at this time *for fun*. The problem is once you get into Iraqi Kurdistan and *if* the Turkish border closes, or is too hot to cross you are really stuck in a cul-de-sac. Can't go north, can't go back to Iran, Can't head south into Iraq proper. Perhaps worth considering a flight as plan B.... Pegasus Airlines flies night flights Erbil to Ankara for 90 bucks. God only knows if they'd still be running if bombing starts again 3 or 4 days from now though.

One thing I would say is if you do cross by land in the next few weeks get away from the Syrian border areas as quickly as you can. The chance of retaliatory car bombings by the PKK on Turkish military and government targets particularly around Cizre and Diyarbakir is probably insanely high right now. After you cross the border perhaps best to head north up towards Van and Dogubeyazit rather than the usual road westwards which spends hours running within meters of the Syrian border (*check my pic*), especially around the particularly strategic Nusaybin-Qamishli crossing. Apparently the Kurdish-led SDF fired rockets across the border into Nusaybin earlier this week, and (according to some news sources) there was fighting on the Syrian side between the Kurds and Assad's army. Were you to follow the highway from Cizre to Mardin you'd be heading a literal stone's throw from all of this. Although likely the Turkish military would close the road (particularly for tourists) should the proverbial sh1t be hitting the fan.

Anyhow a long, rambling reply to say "I'm not really sure" about the answer to your question. If you do decide to go ahead with it have a backup plan, and as you no doubt already know pay very close attention to the news over the next few days. Likely you won't have any problems (contrary to what your Mom, or overly hysterical Department of Foreign Affairs warnings have to say), but best to exercise a little more caution than usual right now.

Nonetheless, fascinating to be in a place at a time when history is literally being made. Good luck and hopefully smooth sailing.
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togreiser
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Re: Travel safety in Iraqi Kurdistan?

Post by togreiser »

I asked my guide.. Karwan.. He says that he experience no change in Iraqi Kurdistan.
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Max o
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Re: Travel safety in Iraqi Kurdistan?

Post by Max o »

Hi folks,
We are planning to visit Kurdistan next spring, entering by land through Turkey and leaving throug Iran.
We have read mixed information about the need to have a full Iraqi visa; some saying that this could be needed to exit the region at land borders.
Anyone has some information about this? Is a Kurdisatn visa sufficient?

Thanks!
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blakep76
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Re: Travel safety in Iraqi Kurdistan?

Post by blakep76 »

Article in the BBC yesterday about both Iraqi and Kurdish intelligence officials becoming alarmed about a growing ISIS presence in the mountains near Kirkuk. Alas because of the tension between the Iraqi military and Peshmerga there's kind of a no man's land where neither side patrols - allowing IS remnants and sleeper cells to regroup.
Both intelligence services predict things will get messier in 2020, but using more traditional terrorist tactics (hit & run attacks, car and suicide bombs etc) rather than attempting to occupy territory as they did in previous years.
What this will mean for visitors to Kurdistan in the future is anyone's guess (nothing? closer scrutiny at roadblocks and other security checks?)

www.bbc.com/news/amp/world-middle-east-50850325
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