Country guides Middle East
Iraq remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world. However, travellers can look forward to a land of many wonders when regional tensions ease.
The destination is a veritable gold mine of archaeological wealth, with Ancient Mesopotamia once calling it home. Ancient Mesopotamia was in many ways the birthplace of civilisation, gifting the world with, among other things, math, the wheel and the concept of time. Its capital, Babylon, was situated on the modern site of Al-Hillah on the east of the Euphrates River. The ruins of this ancient city, where the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon once existed, were treated as sacred palaces by Saddam Hussein during his reign and today are host to coalition forces and their often tasteless graffiti.
The capital of Baghdad was a learning centre and focal point of the Middle East silk trade. The history of the three Mesopotamian civilisations that conquered the land (the Assyrians, the Babylonians and the Achaemenids) is captured in the Iraq Museum. Baghdad is also home to the remains of the Ishtar Gate, the Ancient Theatre and the Babylon Tower (all precious Mesopotamian sites) that are slowly being eroded by bombing and fighting in the city, much to the chagrin of archaeologists the world over.
To the south of Baghdad, near Nasiriyah, is one of the few landmarks left untouched by the conflict so far, the Great Ziggurat of Ur. Built over 4,000 years ago as a platform onto which the gods could descend from the heavens, the strange stone temple is built on a trapezoid base and overlooks the ancient tombs of long gone Mesopotamian leaders.
Currently the only way to travel with a modicum of safety in Iraq is with an armoured army convoy. Again, it is emphatically advised that travellers don't venture there at all.