It is not well known that the northern region of Iraq has had a high degree of autonomy since the 2003 invasion. Being one of the most populous peoples without a state, it is the closest thing to a homeland the Kurds have had in modern history. Thus, unlike the rest if Iraq, with its hundreds of thousands of casualties, the Kurds in the north are grateful for the American invasion in 2003. Also unlike Iraq, it is an incredibly (some might say boringly) safe place to travel. Otherwise, I would not have
made the decision to visit here from southern Turkey (which is also full of Kurds, though they are still struggling for their rights and independence). Wealthy Arabs from the rest of Iraq often come here because of the safety it provides.
Though its lacks in sites to see when compared with places like Italy or Israel/Palestine, it is still worth going to
for those travelling through Turkey. The people are some of the nicest I have ever met, rarely letting me pay for a meal when we sat down together. It’s also interesting to be in a place with virtually no other westerners (I think I saw 2 or 3 from a distance). If you like falafel and can ignore the (huge) lack of sanitary food preparation, you can eat cheaply while there. Many people speak English, and many know it quite well after living in the UK or Europe for a decade as asylum- seekers. It seemed every hotel owner and at least one person in every taxi had lived outside Kurdistan the last 10 years.
For those planning a trip there: getting in was easy. Americans, and I believe most westerners, get a stamp on arrival (it used to be for 10 days, but my stamp said 15). Once you get to the Turkish border town of Silopi, you basically pay a taxi driver $20 to get you to the other side. You can only cross with a car, and the drivers are actually very helpful and take care of everything for you. Mine even put me on a mini-bus on the Iraqi side to the border town (Zakho) to get me a cheaper taxi ride to Duhok, my destination that day. And that’s it. Same process and price going back. Visit gokurdistan.com for all the best info on travelling there. The only thing lacking on the site is taxi prices. They are accurate, but priced from “garage” to “garage.” Ex. Erbil to Sulamaniyah is 15,000 ID, but you must pay to get between the garage and the center of each city, making it over 20,000 ID as a solo traveller. Also, I didn’t find a hotel for less than 25,000 ID.
(PS The stamp you get in your passport says visit the “directorate” within 15 days, but don’t – it is unnecessary.)
I’ll keep the Baghdad visit for another trip.