Forget Iraq, the combat zone. Instead visualize Iraq, the country of barbecued fish and historic sites.
“We don’t expect planeloads of tourists next year,” says Hasan Al-Fayadh. “But the security situation is a lot better now. We’ve already had three tourist groups from Vietnam and several groups from Russia.”
Al-Fayadh, media director for the Tourism Board of Iraq, recently visited London with Humoud Al-Yaqoubi, the agency’s chairman. Their task: to establish Iraq’s reputation as a haven for vacationers around the world.
“For now we count on religious tourism to the Islamic holy sites Najaf and Karballah,” Al-Fayadh tells Metro. “But soon we’ll focus on Biblical sites like Ur, Babylon and Mosul.” Ur is the birthplace of Abraham, while Babylon gained infamy when its Old Testament residents tried to build a tower reaching the sky. Mosul contains the tombs of several Old Testament prophets.
“We could become the new Vietnam,” says Al-Fayadh. “First it was a war zone, but now it’s a tourist destination, especially for Americans. Iraq is well-known; we don’t have to advertise it. I think American veterans will come back and visit us after the U.S. withdraws its forces in 2011.” But, he cautions, don’t travel to Iraq on your own just yet.