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Quick Facts
CapitalBaghdad
Governmentrepublic
CurrencyIraqi dinar (IQD)
Areatotal: 437,072 sq km
water: 4,910 sq km
land: 432,162 sq km
Population25,374,691 (July 2004 est.)
LanguageArabic, Kurdish (official in Kurdish regions), Assyrian, Armenian
ReligionMuslim 97% (Shi'a 60%-65%, Sunni 32%-37%), Christian or other 3%
Country Calling Code964
Internet TLD.iq
Time ZoneUTC +3

Iraq is a country in the Middle East. It lies at the north end of the Persian Gulf and has a small (58 km) coastline in the southeast of the country. It is surrounded by Iran to the east, Kuwait to the south, Saudi Arabia to the southwest, Jordan to the west, Syria to the northwest, and Turkey to the north.

Regions

  • Baghdad (بغداد)
  • Salah ad Din (صلاح الدين)
  • Diyala
  • Wasit
  • Maysan
  • Al Basrah (البصرة)
  • Dhi Qar (ذي قار)
  • Al Muthanna
  • Al Qadisyah (القادسية)
  • Babil (بابل)
  • Al Karbala (كربلاء)
  • An Najaf (النجف)
  • Al Anbar (الأنبار)
  • Ninawa (نينوى)
  • Dahuk (دهوك)
  • London, England, in Paris, France, and in Washington, DC.

    By plane

    Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) (formerly known as Saddam International Airport) (IATA: BGW; ICAO: ORBS, now ORBI) is about 16 km from the center of Baghdad.

    The civilian side of BIAP continues to grow every week. Currently, Royal Jordanian Airlines (RJ) operates two roundtrip flights daily from their base at the Queen Alia International Airport (IATA: AMM) located in Amman, Jordan. RJ does not accept reservations for these flights from outside of Jordan unless travelling to Jordan on an RJ flight. Any travel agent in Jordan can book flights to BIAP.

    Prior to Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Saddam Hussein instructed the staff at Iraqi Airways (IA) to store the entire fleet of the national airline of Iraq in neighboring countries. After the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, some of those planes were retrieved from storage in Syria and Jordan and are now flying again under the Iraqi Airways name. The IA reservation system completely lacks automation-- everything is done by hand, including boarding passes, ticket issuances, seat assignments, reservations, and flight manifests. IA does not currently hold an FAA airworthiness certificate, so they only fly to airports in the region around Iraq. IA is currently operating services to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and United Arab Emirates. Due to the lack of automation, all tickets for IA must be booked through a travel agent familiar with bookings to Iraq, and paid in cash.

    In addition to Iraqi Airways, Turkish Airways has begun operating flights from BIAP to Istanbul, Turkey (IATA: IST) several times per week.

    For those working for Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in Iraq, there are two charter airlines operating into BIAP. Skylink and AirServ operate frequent flights. Travel on either of these services requires sponsorship by your NGO to get you onto an approved traveller list maintained by each. Schedules and services can be irregular, and change frequently.

    The civilian side of the airport is under control of the Iraqi government. The military side is still controlled by the U.S. Military, as well as all Iraqi airspace above FL100. Take-offs and landings at BIAP are controlled by the Iraqi Ministry of Transportation, under the advisement of the U.S. Military. Several critical pieces of Air Traffic Control (ATC) gear have not been turned on, and the result of this is that BIAP can only accommodate Visual Flight Rule (VFR) landings. Instrument landings are not possible until the radar gear is turned on. Because of this, the frequent sandstorms that hit the area can obscure visibility and cause flights to be turned away. It is not unusual for commercial flights to make it all the way to BIAP, and then turn around and return to their origin due to limited visibility on the runway.

    Due to the extreme danger to commercial aircraft landing at BIAP, evasive manuevers are taken for all take-offs and landings. Upon arrival into BIAP airspace, commercial flights circle the airport once to check visibility before beginning a spiral dive above the runway. The purpose of the spiral is to keep the commercial aircraft within the boundaries of the airport that is protected and controlled by both the military and civilian security contractors. The spiral usually begins at about FL300, and continues until the landing gear touch the ground. Military aircraft typically do not do this, as they carry munitions and other devices for defeating most ground-based threats.

    When departing at BIAP, be prepared for long, disorderly, and excessively slow lines wherever you go. If you are not working in Iraq on a government contract, your entrance to the airport grounds about three or four miles from the airport terminal will require you and your vehicle to wait in line to be searched. These security checkpoints can take from two to three hours to process through. The best strategy is to find accommodations somewhere within the BIAP area of control on the day prior to your flight so that you aren't subjected to the long wait and end up missing your flight.

    All airlines operating services at BIAP have a 100% bag matching policy. All bags, whether carry-ons or checked luggage, are lined up on the tarmac next to the aircraft. Each individual passenger must physically touch and claim their bags before a baggage handler and security personnel will match it and then load it into the hold. Any bags left on the tarmac after the boarding process is complete are not loaded and are taken away from the terminal area to a secure facility for disposal.

    By train

    There was a weekly train from the Turkish town of Gazientep to Turkey is the best method of entry into the Northern part of the country, colloquially known as Kurdistan.

    Assuming that you fly to Turkey, you will drive south east to Kuwait.

    By bus

    It is possible to enter Iraq from Jordan by taking a bus from Amman. Other countries may have bus service to Iraq.

    Buy

    You will be able to spend U.S. Dollars or Iraqi Dinar almost everywhere. Be aware that most people do not like to make change for large bills. Also note that any defects on the bills (creases, ink stamps from banks, tears, etc.) will be viewed with extreme suspicion and you will be looked upon as a counterfeiter. Do not bring old bills with you into the country. It's advised that you carry mostly small bills in the form of Iraqi dinars for daily spending cash. Since the introduction of the new Iraqi Dinar, it's widespread acceptance and confidence has pushed the prominence of the U.S. Dollar out of most people's minds. Many shopkeepers are now refusing to accept U.S. Dollars. However, most people will still pay large hotel bills or rent payments using U.S. Dollars due to the sheer volume of bills required to pay with Iraqi Dinar.

    Drink

    It is not safe for visitors to drink the water anywhere in Iraq. It is best to always drink bottled water, preferably made by a company outside of Iraq. Most Iraqi water companies pump their water directly from the Tigris or Euphrates rivers, treat it with ozone, and then filter it into bottles. The taste is often not very good, and those with sensitive systems should not drink it.

    Drinking the local tea (chai) can be safe for some people since it is brought to a boil before serving, but when in doubt, insist that bottled water be used. Many kinds of water-bourne disease, pollution, and infectious agents are not affected by boiling of water. These items are still present in the water after boiling.

    Should you find your body in the uncomfortable position of rejecting food and water due to something you shouldn't have drank, immediately find someone who speaks Arabic and send them to a local pharmacist and request a product known locally as "InterStop". This works better than any well-known western brands.

    Stay safe

    WARNING: Foreign and domestic journalists, contractors, and other travellers are subject to kidnapping and murder in Iraq. Probably the best way to stay safe in Iraq is not to go at all.


    Even people who have always lived in Iraq and who are uninvolved with political issues are often subject to kidnapping-for-profit, which can be fatal if a ransom is not paid. The ransom price is very high and few governments will pay it.

    Iraq is beset with numerous problems that make travelling risky and difficult. The security situation is perilous in most areas of the country, and continues to deteriorate under continuing terrorist attacks. Resistance to continuing military occupation, U.S. and U.K. forces, and the Iraqi Governing Council makes street warfare and acts of terrorism daily occurrences.

    The central third of the country is the most volatile; the northern Kurdish area and southern ports are less dangerous, but only relatively so.

    You should always have a weapon with you (handgun, AK-47, etc) and you should always keep a guard with you.

    Never travel alone. Always travel with a translator/guard if possible.

    Be aware that Iraq has mine fields, do not walk into fields, especially marked ones unless you're absolutely sure that it's safe.

    Stay healthy

    As tap water is generally not potable, you should avoid uncooked foods. Most people will drink only bottled water for the duration of their stay. Usually bottled water will be sold at vendors and large stores, and will be easy to find.

    Many street vendors trying to make money will offer drinks such as water with a lemon twist. Most Foreign Travelers will be sensitive to these drinks, and can result in deadly diseases.

    Respect

    Never show the soles of your feet to others. This is considered very disrespectful for most Iraqis unless you are in the company of friends. When in the company of friends, it's still best to excuse yourself before putting your feet up in the air with the soles of your feet in the direction of any person.

    Do not spit in public or in the direction of others even when done without malice.

    Contact

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    External links

    • Iraq Interim Government (http://www.iraqigovernment.org/index_en.htm) - official web site
    • Turkey to Iraq (http://www.polosbastards.com/artman/publish/Turkey_Iraq_crossing.shtml) - Border Crossing Information