Americans take the first officially sanctioned tour by Westerners in Iraq since 2003.
By Campbell Robertson
THE NEW YORK TIMES
Saturday, March 21, 2009
BAGHDAD — Jo Rawlins Gilbert, a 79-year-old retired probation officer from Menlo Park, Calif., started traveling, as she put it, "as most people do."
First England. Then Europe. Then Eastern Europe. Eventually she and her husband, who died in 2004, made it to Tibet for his 80th birthday. She became, late in life, an adventure traveler, visiting Syria, Yemen, Bosnia and even Afghanistan.
What could top that? Well, here she was in a Baghdad hotel, ending a 17-day tour around one of the world's ultimate danger destinations.
"It had always been on my list," said Gilbert. "If it opened up, I wanted to go."
Whether Iraq can be described as open is debatable. But Gilbert is part of an eight-member group, mostly middle-aged and older, that has the honor of being on the first officially sanctioned tour of Westerners in Iraq since 2003 (outside of the much safer northern enclave of Kurdistan).
Her guide is Geoff Hann, the owner of Hinterland Travel, a "specialist adventure travel company" based in England. He is 70.
On Friday night — almost precisely six years after the U.S. invasion began — a white-haired British man and woman bought big bottles of cold Heineken in central Baghdad, walking home in the dark.
The Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, which helped arrange the tour, provided armed guards, but Hann said they were too restrictive. So the group drove around, in a rented minibus, with little or no security.
They have been to Babylon and Basra, Ur and Uruk, the Shiite shrines in Karbala and Najaf — places where, not so long ago, a visit by an unarmed Westerner likely would have made a return ticket unnecessary.
The tourists tend to be on the older side because they have the necessary financial support networks and, Hann said, "because in the end you've been to places, and you don't really worry as much, if you know what I mean."
Daily developments in Iraq
American flags were set on fire in Baghdad to chants of 'No, no for occupation' as followers of anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr marked the sixth anniversary of the start of the Iraq war.
A suicide bomber in Fallujah killed an Iraqi police officer and five other people, including civilians, in an attempted assault on the home of the local leader of Sunni security volunteers.
The U.S. military said an airstrike on a militant hideout about 45 miles northeast of Baghdad killed at least 11 suspected insurgents.
Budget problems caused by the drop in oil prices have forced Iraq's military and police to put recruiting on hold as the U.S. hands over more responsibility for protecting the country.
A few days old but I haven't seen anyone talking about it around here. I wouldn't go anytime soon but things are looking a bit up I guess? Such an important place for ancient history. If anyone's interested there's an interesting article also on how badly damaged the archeological remains in ancient Mesopotamia are: http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=...g-ancient-iraq