First Published: 2003-08-12

 
Iraq looks ahead to 10 million tourists
 

Senior Iraqi tourism official says his country has potential to be among premier tourist destinations in world.

 

Middle East Online

By Kamal Taha - BAGHDAD

The ancient city of Babylon flourished for about fifteen centuries

Iraq hopes to lure 10 million tourists in the coming years, the senior Iraqi tourism official told a symposium here Tuesday, seemingly oblivious to the ravages of war and the surging crime in the country.

"With the Tigris and the Euphrates, the marshes and forests of palm trees, and the archaeological sites of ancient Mesopotamia and holy Shiite cities, Iraq should be counted among the premier tourist destinations in the world," said Rauf al-Ansari, coordinator general of Iraq's tourism office.

"All of these assets should allow us to reach 10 million tourists in the coming years," he added, ignoring the chaotic realities on the ground such as daily attacks on US forces, carjackings, looting, kidnappings and a Baghdad airport still closed to civilian traffic.

Despite the official optimism, the director general of private Iraqi tourism firm Land of Dreams, Hilal Shawkat, estimated that the relaunch of touristic activity in Iraq needs at least five billion dollars in investment.

Before, "it was not really proper to call it tourism in Iraq, because the people leading the sector were not professionals but secret service agents. The professionals had left the country," Shawkat said.

Mowaffak al-Bana, a leading Iraqi tourism expert, said the professionals were eager to come back and rebuild the industry from the ground up.

"The professionals are ready to return to Iraq to relaunch these activities, but the situation has to improve radically. If it stays as it is, their efforts would be in vain."

The symposium on the "new prospects and future of tourism in Iraq" was organized in a Baghdad hotel by the Iraqi Reconstruction and Development Council, part of the US-led coalition that has struggled to rebuild the country.

The coalition's advisor on culture and tourism affairs, Italian Pietro Cordone, presided over the sessions joined by about 100 people.

Ansari called for "the opening of Iraq's doors to Arab and foreign investment offering all necessary facilities, the establishment of a ministry of tourism and a supreme council for religious tourism, and construction of tourist sites."

During the looting which followed the April collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime, the catalogue of documents at the land registry office was torched, making the purchase of land or buildings nearly impossible.

In addition, there is no government office tasked with selling off state lands to investors.

Before the spring US-led war, Iraq's tourism was essentially a religious affair. Hundreds of thousands of Shiites, mainly from neighbouring Iran, visited Iraq's holy cities of Najaf and Karbala south of the capital.

The only company organizing such pilgrimages belonged to Saddam's elder son Uday and was under the control of the intelligence apparatus.

Non-religious tourism was almost non-existent, due in large part to the UN embargo in force against the country since its 1990 invasion of neighbouring Kuwait.

Only a handful of Arab airlines were landing at Baghdad's international airport, and during Saddam's regime there were few visas offered.

Iraq, birthplace of writing and of the patriarch Abraham, possesses one of the wealthiest world heritages with its abundance of unique archaeological sites.

 

Netanyahu faces mounting pressure over holy site

Erdogan holds talks with Gulf leaders on Qatar crisis

Iran gets more involved in Iraq militarily

Two Jordanians killed at Israeli embassy in Amman

600,000 Yemenis expected to contract cholera in 2017

EU warns Turkey economy at risk in Germany row

Saudi crown prince takes temporary charge

Israel strikes Gaza after missile across border

Hezbollah says fight on Syria border ‘nearing end’

Staff of Turkey opposition paper stand trial

Trump aide due in Israel to ease holy site tensions

Tehran’s judiciary chief accuses US of jailing innocent Iranians

Palestinian arrested after attack in Tel Aviv

Maghreb future is tied to resolving Western Sahara conflict

MENA countries particularly vulnerable to climate change

UN-backed Libya PM to meet eastern strongman near Paris

Saudi Arabia and allies insist demands non-negotiable as GCC crisis continues

Arab League accuses Israel of 'playing with fire' at holy site

Erdogan seeks to defuse standoff around Turkey’s Qatar

Syria warplanes strike near Damascus despite ceasefire

US warns Iran over imprisoned Americans

Kuwait protests to Lebanon over Hezbollah training

30 extremists in Sinai operations

Three Palestinians shot dead in Jerusalem

Nearly 360 injured in Turkey by magnitude 6.7 quake

UN says Saudi to blame for deadly Yemen strike on civilians

Police fire tear gas to disperse Morocco protest

Germany reviews arms sales to Turkey

Hezbollah launches Syria border operation

China calls for Gulf crisis talks

Israel bars men under 50 from Jerusalem Old City prayers

Intensifying Jihadist-rebel clashes in Syria's Idlib

Saudi King sets up new state security agency

Rebel ambush kills 28 regime fighters near Damascus

Turkey slams 'dangerous' Cyprus energy plans

Saudi prince 'arrested over leaked abuse videos'

Israel boosts 'security measures' as Al-Aqsa tensions simmer

Kuwait expels Iranian diplomats over 'terror' cell

Germany vows to overhaul Turkey ties as row escalates

Home cooked meals a relief for fighters in Syria's Raqa

US maintains designation of Iran as top 'state sponsor'

US halting support for Syria rebels

30 civilians dead in anti-IS strikes in Syria

Palestinian civilians urge ICC to speed up probe

Turkey PM opts for stability in light cabinet reshuffle