Day 242: Shh.. Don’t tell mom we’re in Iraq!

Overlooking Dohuk

 Iraqi Kurdistan to be precise, the northern region of Iraq that enjoys a high degree of autonomy, commonly known as “the other Iraq”. This is the region liberated by the US following the 2003 Iraq War and fall of Saddam’s regime. The Kurds were severely oppressed by Hussein, whose crimes against humanity include genocide of Kurds in a chemical attack on the Kurdish city of Halabja. So it only seems natural that their liberator, Mr. George Bush Junior is loved and revered. This is probably the only place on earth where Dubya is loved.

Throughout our travel in Turkey, we’ve come to learn about the Kurds – a people of the Middle East living largely around Turkey, Iran, and Iraq. As we moved through southeastern Turkey, from Mt. Nemrut to Diyarbakir, from Mardin to the Iraqi border at Silopi, we felt the increasing presence of the Turkish army – military compounds confined within barbwired walls, armed forces and even tanks. They’re there to maintain security in southeastern Turkey where the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) insurgents have historically been active (9 people were killed in a bomb attack last month in Hakkari).

A badge from the 2003 Iraq invasion – present from a US troop to our taxi driver

So why are we here? Trust me I’ve asked myself the same question more than a hundred times. The answer may seem foolish but I thought the idea of an American-loving Iraq highly interesting, somewhat dubious, and wanted to see for myself. We read about Iraqi Kurdistan from our guidebook and have heard traveling in this area was, quite ironically, safer than in southeastern Turkey. I thought it would make an interesting route to Iran as we were getting sick of Turkey anyway. Yes, the appeal of seeing firsthand a place so controversial is also another very stupid reason.

But I’d be hiding the truth if I said I didn’t have any concern. We did our research but still lost sleep over it. Didn’t hear any recent travel news to ease my worries. I was nervous, real nervous. It was so much easier to say yeah we’ll go, but when we were just hours from the border I started to really question myself. It’s our 44th border crossing and my most nerve racking one. Seeing heavy artillery and AK47s on the way didn’t really make me feel a lot more comfortable…

… until we reached the “Welcome to Iraqi Kurdistan ” sign.

Border controls were conducted in the most civilized manner. A large waiting lounge with plush leather chairs filled with Turks and Kurds waiting for their names to be called. We were invited to sit in an office and served tea and water. The officer spoke little English, but was very patient with my feeble attempts at speaking phrasebook Arabic. He ensured us that traveling in the Kurdish region was safe. After we explained our planned route, that was it. Visa granted. He even told me not to rush my tea and waited patiently for me to finish the brew. Wow, Kurdish hospitality.

Kurdish pizza

60km later (on paved road and civilized driving), we pulled into Dohuk. Walking through the city was like a scene out of Inception – every pair of eyes soon spotted the strange backpacking aliens and watched with surprise and curiosity. We should be used to attention by now but a new country always needs a little getting used to. It was 5pm and we hadn’t eaten anything all day. After a Kurdish pizza and freshly squeezed juice, I was already pickin’ up good vibes.

Travel Info
Taxi drivers will greet you the minute you get off the bus at Silopi otogar (listen for “Zaho? Zaho?”). TL20 per person will take you across the border, though you may have to pay more if the taxi doesn’t fill up. Driver does everything for you and drops you off at a taxi station after clearing Iraqi Kurdistan border controls. Onward taxi to Dohuk US$30 and can be quite a wait to fill up. We waited 40 minutes but no luck. More people head to Arbil so easier for a taxi to fill. US$100 to Arbil, US$25 per person based on full occupancy.

From Dohuk to Amadiya village – IR8,000 pp one way on shared taxi (4 pax)

From Dohuk to Arbil – IR15,000 pp one way on shared taxi (4 pax)

Apparently no taxi from Amadiya/Sulav to Arbil so better to backtrack to Dohuk if heading this way after.

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2 Comments

  1. ace says:

    wow!!!!!! u guys have lots and lots of balls!!! more power to u dude!!!

  2. Leslie says:

    I agree Ace! you guys are so brave! HEROS!

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