Introducing Iraq

The Ziggurat of Ur © hardnfast

*ISIS, an al Qaeda splinter group, has seized swathes of Iraqi territory in recent months, including some key cities in northern and central Iraq. Thousands of Iraqis, mostly civilians, have already been killed in the violence, and hundreds of thousands displaced. Extensive travel alerts are in place for Iraq.

Iraq is still one of the most dangerous countries in the world; to say that travel there is 'ill-advised' would be an understatement when trained military combatants from the United States and other coalition forces are having a hard time staying alive there. When the smoke does eventually clear from this war-torn nation though, it might (depending on what survives the war) have many a wonder to reveal.

Iraq is a veritable gold mine of archaeological wealth. It was once the home of Ancient Mesopotamia, the capital of which, 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. In Baghdad, the remains of the Ishtar temple, the Ancient Theatre and the Babylon Tower (all precious Mesopotamian sites) are slowly being eroded by bombing and fighting in the city, much to the chagrin of archaeologists the world over.

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 Baghdad Museum, which suffered some looting at the onset of the 2003 invasion but is now under the protection of the US military. To the south of Baghdad, near Nasiriyah is one of the few landmarks left untouched by the invasion 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 you don't travel there at all.

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