Iraq - Shawarmas are the biggest danger

My trip to Iraq was a prime example of a bad trip start. It was a few minutes before midnight when I sat on the plane, shortly before the flight should take off after a stopover in Ankara towards Iraq. 

That's when the pilot announced we have to get off the plane.

The flight can not be carried out due to an unexpected airport closure in Iraq.

Great, again a drone with bombs detonated or what? All passengers were asked to leave the plane and wait in the transit area in Ankara - indefinitely. The flight was re-scheduled about every 4 hours during that night and then operated the next day and with 12.5 hours delay, the plane then landed in Erbil.

The problem wasn't a bomb, but fog, according to the airline. But still, the bomb scenario is not far from reality, I thought. 

Is Iraq is full of war and not safe?

Even though the few news reports want to make us understand that Iraq is full of total anarchy and rockets are falling every day, in fact, according to many locals, this is true only for small parts of the country, and Erbil is not one of them. A local told me:

Within the last 15 years I didn't see anything warlike. The few attacks that occurred in Erbil I became aware solely through Facebook. Erbil is definitely safe!

However, there is the current U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. So I imagined it would be better to travel to Iraq now to have some kind of "western security". In case the shit starts to hit the fan for whatever reason and the country gets overrun by terrorists like Afghanistan.

Arriving in Iraq

So the reason for the 12.5 hour delay was not a terrorist attack, which was relieving. 

The airport gave an unexpectedly modern, safe, and sophisticated impression. After exiting the plan, in the terminal at the end of the completely empty terminal was a desk with a person behind it. 

It must be a scary sight to see 200 people with gritted teeth all at once streaming towards you out of the plan, waiting to be waved through the PCR test control. Poor guy. Fortunately, I was pretty much at the front of the queue. The control was more like 

Do you have a paper with the word "vaccinated" on it? Yes? OK, move along!

For security reasons, there are two terminals for arriving passengers. One which is only for docking the planes, nothing else. From this one, passengers have to take the shuttle to the next terminal, which is then the terminal with passport control and visa issuance. The 90-day visa was issued or stamped in 5 minutes and cost is $70 in cash (no funny questions asked, all very friendly). From this terminal the connection goes to the city. My hotel shuttle was waiting for me despite the gigantic delay.

Covid test is a joke  

Since I'm leaving Iraq in about 72 hours, I took a PCR test here at Erbil airport so I can use it for departure as well. This cost 30 dollars and took only 40 minutes until the result was ready for download. However, the test method is quite questionable. 

This was done with two touches of the swab on the tongue (so to speak, by testing like this, I was already sure that it would be negative). However, I had no problems with it. If I had to quarantine somewhere abroad for two weeks because of Covid, Iraq would be at the end of my wish list.

First impression

My first impressions after arrival did not correspond in any way to the expectations I had of this country. I was completely surprised to see the modern skyscrapers and clean streets and infrastructure. Everything well lit and all the advertisements and LEDs made me aware of the brainwashing or the information hiding of "good news from Iraq" we are facing in the West. 

Erbil seemed to be more like an orderly and well-lived city in Europe. Of course, many other parts of Iraq might be a different story. 

Search for food

My first steps in Iraq were related to the search for food. Again, I was not disappointed. There are plenty of modern and clean restaurants, from small to big budgets. Even KFC, McDonald's and other western chains. Of course, there's also Shawarma on every street corner. Alcohol is not hidden here either.

No Christmas in Iraq? Also in this respect, one could think it is Western Europe here. Christmas lights, Santa Claus and "Merry Christmas" are everywhere. In the coffee shop around the corner and in the hotel even Christmas music ran in an endless loop.

Day 2 - City Sightseeing in Iraq

During the 3 days of my visit, I saw very little police or security. Even in front of the hotels, there was solely sometimes a security personnel with Kalashnikov, but nothing else. I would have expected there will be tanks and mortars everywhere. So again, it seems to be really safe here compared to other cities in Iraq or in Africa or Central America, the latter where in front of every supermarket security stands with a shotgun.

Walk towards the center

At this time of year it is quite fresh and windy in Erbil. Had my hotel near the citadel, which is also the center of Erbil. From the hotel to there it was therefore not very far.

The biggest Mosque in Erbil. Beside are shops and further down the road some bazaars.

I walked to the center, to the citadel is a kind of castle with a village in it and was built by the Mongols. It's surrounded by so many shawarma food stalls. Ahhh, Shawarma, I could eat those things all day...

Nishtiman Bazaar. This bazaar is just below the citadel, there are several bazaars and serve breakfast with shawarma or sandwiches for the equivalent of 50 US cents. 

Also here, delicious shawarma take-away food stalls are everywhere. Mmmh, eating again. These things are probably the biggest danger all over Erbil.

Grand Bazaar. Just like Nishitman Bazaar, it's also around the lower part of the citadel, there are many restaurants and even more stores and food stalls. The whole area is quite large and I stayed here until noon.

So many people here. Visiting Bazaars is seems to be a common thing to do in Erbil.

A bit further left below the citadel is the Arab Quarter. A quarter of stone ruins and meanwhile abandoned.

Around the citadel are other interesting squares. The citadel is always in the middle and always visible to see from all over the city. 

The main attraction in Erbil? The Erbil Citadel

In front of the citadel is a big park. It fitted between the bazaars left and right.

The view from the citadel is nice. Frontview.

Most of the citadel is closed. There are two main entrances and from both with a great view over Erbil.

View from the other end of the citadel.

A long walk back to the hotel.

Day 3 - A walk in the former park of Saddam Hussein

Had time to linger around until this evening. Walked for a few KM towards the so-called "Sami Abdulrahman Park". 

This is a huge park which is still in full construction and constantly equipped with new trees and firs. 

The people of Erbil spend their weekends here. The park is relatively new and in the past, there was a horror military camp of Saddam Hussein as a military base.

I continued walking randomly through Erbil.

The streets are all clean all over. Food stalls and many restaurants everywhere. What I noticed most about Erbil is that there are many Syrians and Indians working here. Probably they are refugees. It must be very hard to be a refugee and have to flee to Iraq. 

There was a rooftop terrace on the hotel, with a view of all over Erbil including the citadel. What a nice view. Went up several times.

Continue to Dubai in the U.A.E. - Country #143

In the evening, the hotel shuttle drove me back to the airport. 

Security procedures when accessing the airport

In contrast to the arrival procedure, i.e. from the airport to the city, there was a lot more security on the way out.

Various inspections and checkpoints with dogs had to be passed to get to the first terminal. Cars were searched all over and all passengers of all the cars had to get out for inspection too. In this area all the luggage was scanned. Surely there were some hidden security protocols aside from these checkpoints, with tanks and soldiers just around the corner.

After passing the checkpoints, passengers were brought by shuttle to the second terminal which was the same as in any other country, with normal check-in and passport control.

The flight to Dubai was perfectly on time and so, no other devastating 12 hours delay.

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