Iraq has been a point of controversy since fights between rebels, terrorist and American forces took place. And they still take place now. But there are still places to visit and explore within the reaches of Iraq and some cities and towns are voted to be safe as they are heavily guarded by American troops and liberation forces.
Iraq is located in western Asia and has a coastline of 58 km in the south, which makes it accessible from the sea and however, some people are stating that the country is landlocked.
Although a former battle zone and now the country is struggling to recover from the war and from their loss of their fierce dictator, Saddam Hussein, tourism is beginning to take shape. Sights like the Great Ziggurat of Ur and the temple of Hatra are to be visited. The capital city, Baghdad is also recovering and being reconstructed to greet people that are eager to visit.
Certain areas are named safe according to tourists that have visited the country recently like the capital city and the Iraqi people are quite welcoming. Foreigners are usually greeted, even if you are American. The safest zone in Iraq that has witnessed little to no conflicts are Kurdistan and the southern part of the country.
According to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Baghdad is a critical threat location, but the tourists who visited the city-state that they've not encountered any suspected terrorist activity.
Highest Risks You Expose Yourself to When Visiting Iraq
Overall Risks in Iraq: HIGH
Iraq is a hot country when it comes to armed conflicts, even if the war has ended. The Bureau of Consular Affairs has stated that Iraq is a no-go zone for tourists and armed conflicts, kidnappings and traps are along the way.
To get some safety when traveling to Iraq, be sure to enroll in the STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) and get updates on the zone you wish to visit. Also, the program will allow your family to get in contact with you in case you’re in an emergency.
Informing your family members on your whereabouts all the time and on your current status is a smart move and it’s actually recommended by the US Embassy in Iraq. If you wish to carry some personal documents around Iraq, be sure to leave home some copies as identity theft is very common in Iraq and not only. In case of an unpleasant event that may happen, copies of your personal documents must be left at home.
The northern part of the country is a hotspot for terrorist activity and should be avoided by any means necessary as well.
Crossing the border from Iraq to Syria is also forbidden as the western border is heavily guarded. Not only that shooting on sight is legal, but kidnappings and aggression are very common. Some people who wished to do so faced imprisonment up to ten years and even more for illegal crossing. Unless it is of business related and you have the proper documentation, you can cross the border in Syria.
Pickpocketing and Theft Risks in Iraq: HIGH
Theft is on the rise in all of Iraq, especially in the capital and it may get aggressive. As the economic situation of the country is declining and natural oil reserves are depleting, locals turn to stealing, always targeting foreigners. American tourists and expatriates are often targeted because of the high value of the American dollar.
For expatriates, thefts from residences are common and the number of cases is running higher for several years. Although property theft is common, they are non-violent in nature and Westerners are not targeted especially in these cases.
Pickpocketing is also very common in Baghdad and Erbil. Police have swift responses to these kinds of felonies, but response times also vary. The military and police are to be seen in crowded areas of the city and not only, but they also respond to threats imposed by thieves and pickpockets.
- How to avoid pickpocketing and theft in Iraq?
Given Iraq's current situation, you can expect to be in quite some danger while traveling through this country - its economic status is poor and, thus, locals are sure to rely on various means to put food on the table, so to say. Moreover, as an American or British tourist, you can expect to be targeted, mainly because the thieves will think that you have some currency on you - which is why you should rely on banks for your deposit, and not on your pockets.
In order to avoid pickpocketing and theft in Iraq, you have to take more than just the basic safety measures - in short, make sure that you don't display any valuables while walking down the street; in this respect, we refer to gadgets, smartphones, money, jewelry. Any of the aforementioned items may attract unwanted attention.
Then, you should stick to the main areas of the city you visit - stay away from any remote areas and from the city slums, and limit your time spent into remote areas if you end up there. If possible, stay around tourists, but make sure to avoid over-crowded places, as those might be possible targets for terrorist attacks.
Scam Risk in Iraq: MEDIUM
Scams with fake money currencies are very common throughout Iraq and westerners are fooled, so be sure to have the right and legit money when buying something in Iraq. Many people went to jail because they were handed fake money without them knowing.
A scam that is present on the internet as well is the dollar-dinar conversions. Some websites are able to convert dollars into dinars on your account and literally, they seem like trustworthy websites. Best way to change currencies is by a local bank in Iraq and after that, be sure to check is the notes are legit by checking them at another bank.
- How to avoid getting scammed in Iraq?
As mentioned before, currency is a big issue in Iraq - our recommendation is that, when you exchange money, ask the person giving you dinars to give you diverse types of bills so that you have both big and low value bills in your pocket. For example, when you buy something that's a little bit more expensive than usual, you'd want to hand over the clerk the exact amount requested for that item.
If you do so, you reduce the risk of being given fake bills - which, as stated before, can actually get you in jail if you are found with them in your pockets. Moreover, when withdrawing money, we recommend you do so from within a reputed bank - same goes for currency exchange; if you find a better rate somewhere outside a bank, it is advised that you do a bit of research regarding that place so that you don't end up scammed.
As to other types of scams, it is better to just ignore any local that approaches you, especially if they seem to try to draw your attention too much - they are most likely trying to take advantage of you, so you should just leave the area.
Kidnapping Risk in Iraq: HIGH
Kidnappings happen very often and they usually target foreigners and expatriates. The main objective of kidnappings is to ask for money in return. After the money is provided to the terrorist group, they will release the person taken hostage and with the money received, they sponsor their terrorist movement in the country.
Reports state that some kidnapping has nothing to do with money and the kidnappers often address to the government to release some occupied territories in exchange for releasing the hostage. This has caused some major declines in peace forces in territories occupied by the government and not only. Fights take place after a territory has been released to regain it back after an important kidnapping. Often, the hostages are important people to the US and Iraq for territories to be released.
- How to avoid getting kidnapped in Iraq?
As you have seen, kidnappings occur for a number of reasons - money, ransoms, exchange for the release of imprisoned terrorists, and such. Now, given the fact that most prisons in Iraq hold more than one individual of this kind, you can expect that villains, so to call them, will try more than once to kidnap a foreigner and try to get what they want in return.
Furthermore, you should keep in mind that, if the kidnappers request an important prisoner to be released, the government that has that prisoner might not want to negotiate with the kidnappers - it is common, to most governments including the US one, to not make negotiations or such with terrorists/ criminals.
In this respect, one should try their best to not get kidnapped - avoid remote areas, the city slums, and the neighborhoods with a bad reputation; but, most importantly, we advise you to not travel alone. Sure, a tour guide might help keeping you out of trouble, but having a couple of friends/ family members by your side at all times will always be better.
You'll also want to avoid crowded areas and places of prayer, as those are likely to be targeted by terrorists. In short, keep an eye on your surroundings and don't let your guard down - if anything happens, it is best if you remain calm and wait for the authorities to take action. As mentioned, most hostages are eventually released.
Terrorism Risk in Iraq: HIGH
Since the US forces have retreated from certain parts of the country, ISIS forces are rising, as fighters reach from every part of the continent. Although the US forces left the country mostly, multi-national coalitions are flooding into Iraq to join forces with the Special Forces and Security of Iraq to regain territories lost.
With the international forces present, ISIS forces have retreated in the mountains and only plan certain attacks in certain areas. Attacks are mainly related to vehicles mounted with explosive devices and surprise attacks. The attacks target government officials and Westerners, usually accompanied by a convoy.
Checkpoints are also established on the main roads and are meant to stop ISIS forces and other armed forces to flush into cities. SVEST's of suicide vest bombers target these checkpoints to destroy them and get past the armed peace forces. Suicide bombers are a big threat to major cities, especially in crowded places.
- How to avoid terrorism in Iraq?
If you know at least one thing or two about terrorism, you clearly know how to avoid it - first of all, you'd want to know which the most commonly targeted places by terrorists are. Namely, places of prayer, markets, malls - in general, crowded places that are usually visited by both locals and tourists.
Again, it is advised that you do not travel alone, especially if you plan to pass through more than one checkpoint - this means that you will have to exit a city or two and be within remote areas. Overall, Iraq is quite the dangerous place, so it is better to stick to the areas that are meant for tourists and to those that are protected by the authorities.
Risks for Women Traveling Alone in Iraq: HIGH
Risks are high for women who travel alone in Iraq mainly because of the strict religious acts that happen in the country. To be remembered that the religion that predominates the country is Islamic and certain clothing must be embraced in the country while visiting.
Not getting unnecessary attention in Iraq is the right way to go and stick to some modest clothing, covering your shoulders and legs at all time and as hell as your hair. Rape is a thing not to be messed with in Iraq.
As a foreigner, keep in mind that some Iraqi women are constantly being harassed, so strolling in the night in Baghdad is a thing you should not do by any means.
- How to avoid crime as a solo woman traveler in Iraq?
As mentioned, because Islamic is the predominant religion in Iraq, you'd want to know the local customs/ habits as well as the clothing style you should approach before entering the country - women, both local and foreigner, tend to be harassed if they don't adhere to the strict regulations of the country.
In short, you should not be traveling alone while in Iraq - have a tour guide accompany you and try to be back to your accommodation by sunset. It is also recommended that you avoid crowded places, especially bars and pubs.
Rape Risk in Iraq: HIGH
As civil unrest and fights often happen, rape risk is extremely high, as the main religion in Iraq is the Islam. Related to kidnappings, female US soldiers are also kidnapped and sexually assaulted in imprisonment by the ISIS forces. Rapes are usually with a violent nature.
Some women that are kidnapped may end up as sexual slaves for ISIS troops and so, the rape risk remains high in the provinces in northern Iraq.
- How to avoid getting raped in Iraq?
In order to avoid getting raped while in Iraq, you should take into account all of the travel advice we have mentioned earlier - refrain from walking alone on the streets, avoid remote areas, stick to the main areas of a city/ location you are in and, overall, avoid traveling alone.
Obviously, you'll want to respect the clothing-related rules and try to draw as little attention to you as possible.
Risks for People Traveling with Children in Iraq: HIGH
Traveling with children is very risky in Iraq, as dangers lurk at every corner due to terrorist attacks. The main danger of traveling with children in Iraq is that you and your family can be caught in a crossfire between various armed forces. It is highly recommended that you leave your children at home while traveling to Iraq for any reason.
Child kidnapping is another thing that in Iraq is common and huge bounties are asked by the terrorists.
- How to avoid unwanted scenarios?
While most locations/ countries around the world come with the risk of you losing your children within a crowd, Iraq comes with serious dangers - as mentioned before, you risk being caught in a crossfire, robbed, assaulted, and harassed while in Iraq. We strongly advise you to leave your children home if you plan on traveling to Iraq - even though you plan to go there for a pleasure trip, both you and your children will be safer if you are surrounded by adults only.
Keep in mind that, if you bring them with you, you're going to have to keep an eye on them at all times.
Natural Disaster Risks in Iraq: MEDIUM
If you have managed to escape the terrorist threat, Iraq has a number of natural hazards that are quite extreme. You may think that heat is the greatest enemy and this is right. Temperatures can exceed well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer and can plummet to 32 degrees in the winter time.
During winter time, some roads are closed due to heavy snowfall, especially in the high altitudes and near the mountains, making you sitting ducks for terrorist forces to attack.
Dust storms are another hazard that you should consider when traveling not only to Iraq but also in southern Asia and in the desert. To make matters worse, sometimes dust storms are accompanied by fierce thunderstorms and floods, ruining everything in their path.
Earthquakes happen also, as in 2017, a 7.3 magnitude earthquake shook all of Iraq and neighboring countries causing hundreds of lives to be lost. The same earthquake also caused several buildings to collapse. After that, a series of earthquakes in 2018 shook again Iraq, but this time causing minimum damage.
Transportation Risks in Iraq: HIGH
First of all, it is worth mentioning that all of the foreign officials living in Iraq do so in guarded accommodations and are under protection at all times - moreover, when they are traveling, they have protection teams with them and, in some cases, they may be forbidden to go into certain areas, depending on the threat level.
It is also well-known that most hotels and guesthouses that usually accommodate tourists/ foreigners are subject to regular threats - for example, the British embassy doesn't allow any official visitors to be accommodated overnight in a hotel, except if the hotel is located in the Kurdistan Region.
When it comes to road travel, it is still classified as dangerous - fatal roadside bombings seem to be usual there, and these target military and civilian vehicles as well. There have been reports telling of false checkpoints as well - eventually, these have been used to launch attacks on convoys and such.
In short, traveling through Iraq is not recommended unless you have a protection team with you - you may be robbed, carjacked and, in case of extreme danger, you may be the victim of a roadside bombing. This is why we recommend you to stick to one area if you plan to visit Iraq, as transportation and road travel can get very dangerous if you, your tour guide, or your protection team don't take the necessary precaution measures.
Night-Clubs, Pubs, and Bar Risks in Iraq: MEDIUM to HIGH
Even though most problems one could face in Iraq are related to terrorism and violence/ assault, a tourist should be careful when inside a night-club, pub, and bar as well. Apparently, as some online media outlets suggest, locals have a drinking problem there - in this respect, a pub brawl might start out of a sudden and, obviously, some people inside such facilities might be armed as well.
When it comes to drug use and drink spiking, there are little to no reports - however, one can't be sure that kidnappers won't rely on such means in order to get their hands on their target, so to say. Therefore, it is better if you keep an eye on your drink and don't accept any from strangers.
Naturally, if you do like partying, we recommend you to visit the clubs and bars that are within your accommodation or only those that are located in the center of the city - any of those situated towards the outskirts might be more than dangerous for tourists. It is also advised that someone knows your schedule and your possible location at all times so that they may alert the authorities in case you don't get back at the time you told them you'd be back.
In Iraq, it is better to be one step ahead of everything that might put you in danger - make a schedule and keep to it, have a list of the areas you have to avoid and so on. Better safe than sorry, right?
Health Risks in Iraq: MEDIUM
Medical care is quite good in Iraq, but the hospitals are under western standards. Medical equipment is also scarce and the staff is undertrained, so getting sick in Iraq is better to be avoided by all means. Some people that travel to Irak or are expatriates will make sure that a health package is available for them in the country in case of emergencies. If you are planning to travel there, be sure to have all your documents up to date and a valid international insurance.
Another thing you should consider when visiting Iraq is that the summer heat is extreme and severe heat strokes are very common, so a good hydration is a must. Also, if you have heart problems, be sure to stay away from the direct sunlight.
List of Vaccines You Need in Irak
Before you plan to visit or move to Iraq, be sure that you have the following vaccines recommended by the CDC:
- Routine vaccines (measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and a flu shot)
- Hepatitis A and B
- Yellow fever (be sure to program you Yellow fever vaccine a couple of months before you visit Iraq as the vaccines may not be available at the time)
Most Dangerous Areas in Iraq
- Ninewah Province
- Salah-Al-Din Province
- Diyala Province
- Anbar Province
- Kirkuk Province
Concluding Remarks: Is Iraq Safe to Visit?
As a conclusion to the above information, Iraq is voted as a high-risk country to visit due to its civil unrest and armed forces always fighting. Terrorism is present in the country, although US forces have almost left the country and the country is now under military and Special Forces control. In Baghdad, keeping a close eye after the awkward behavior and people could mark the point that you will need to find safety and always stick around to armed liberation forces and Special Forces when in trouble. Also, the police have a good response time to any felony.
Always remember the fact that you should not venture out into the open desert, as some ISIS camps may be present. In the mountainous area, armed terrorist forces will shoot on sight if you choose to wander into the mountains.
Kidnapping is again, a thing that you should be worried about as these acts are very common in Iraq and the bounties are very big. The money that is delivered to the terrorists is used to sponsor the movement even further.
A friendly piece of advice is never to travel alone and do not bring your children in Iraq for visiting as fights could often happen even in the middle of the city. Bombs can also explode from cars and on the outskirts of the city; trigger-mines are common as well.
Always remember that medical care is scarce in Iraq and you will need a good health insurance when planning to stay longer in this country. Some routine vaccines are also required to avoid sickness.