Category: Iraq

Nov 07 2009

Sulaymaniyah, Iraq

My host Jalal prepared breakfast for me and he told me that he was in Saddam army for around 10 years since 1979. During the war in 1991 March, Saddam moved his tanks into Sulaymaniyah and the city was emptied. People who had car drove to Iran and people without car ran into the mountains. People here were glad that the American army came and toppled Saddam, else he would still be in control and terrorize the people. Many Kurds were killed in Anfal (genocide) and they were buried alive.

Took a bus from Sarchnack to Amna Suraka (Red Security) museum in Sulaymaniyah in the morning. During Saddam’s regime, many Kurds were imprisoned and tortured here. Many were simply vanished. Outside the museum there were many soldiers. The reason was because there were some VIP there so I couldn’t get in.

A park in the city
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Walked around the bazaar area.
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Newer part
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The bazaar is pretty big and were flooded with Chinese made goods.
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Chinese made motorbike
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Chinese rice
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From an economic point of view, China has a lot of stake in the economy in Northern Iraq by supplying low cost products to the people. In many countries I see Chinese goods penetrating the local market and almost everything is made in China now. It’s hard to find things made locally these days.

There are even chinese restaurant and chinese massage parlour here.
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Stopped by a shop owner for a chat.
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It’s hard to communicate because almost no one speak English. He was pretty nice to offer me sweets and cookies from his shop, I couldn’t accept it so I just paid him for the cookies.
Went back to Amna Suraka again at 2pm and the security looked even tighter. There were soldiers on the roof and maybe some even carried sniper. The guards allowed me to see some tanks
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but I wasn’t allowed to go in. I found out later it’s because the wife of the Iraqi president was there.
Took a cab (3000 Iraqi Dinar) to Halabja garage
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then took a bus to Halabja (3000 Iraqi Dinar, 1.5 hours ride).
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Halabja was the place where Saddam released chemical weapon and killed 5000 people, mostly Kurdish in a few minutes.
On the road, I saw many soldiers coming from the other side and there were soldiers stationed at every 50 meters. Some trucks have big machine guns mounted on top of the roof. Probably it’s because there were some VIP coming to Sulaymaniyah. I didn’t bring my passport with me so I got panicked and was afraid that I couldn’t get back to Sulaymaniyah. There were many checkpoints and it’s random on how the military singled out people. On one of the checkpoints, a soldier asked me for my passport and I just showed him my New York driving license. I signaled that I left my passport in Sulaymaniyah and he just shook his head and finally let the bus go. Once I got to Halabjah, I just took another shared taxi went right back to Sulaymaniyah since it’s a little dark. I didn’t go to the Halabjah museum and just passed by it.
Halabjah still look quite poor.
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There was another soldier sharing the taxi with me back to Sulaymaniyah and his AK-47 was on his lap the whole time. I guess probably it’s because there was a soldier in the taxi so we passed all the checkpoints without any issues.
Managed to find an internet café (2000 Iraqi dinar for an hour). Did some research about my trip and then took a taxi back to Sarchnack. Kurdish people have been very nice, I don’t have to bargain hard here and no one really tries to rip me off. There are money changers carrying stash of cash on the street without any worries.

Next day,
From what I read, there are 2 border crossings to Iran. One which is only 75km away from Sulaymaniyah but sometimes they don’t allow foreigner in. I decided to go to another border crossing at Haji Omran which is more popular but further away. From what I read is that Malaysian citizen don’t need a visa to Iran. Sometimes border guards are not aware of all the rules. So to be safe, it’s better for me to take the more popular border crossing. Also the road to Haji Omran will pass by some great scenery. I have 2 options to get to Haji Omran, either I had to go back to Erbil first or take another route with few transfers. I picked the second option.

Got to the garage at 10.30am
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and took a shared taxi to Rania (8000 Iraqi dinar, 2 hours).
Passed by some beautiful mountains.
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Saw a few Proton (Malaysian made car) on the street
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Took another shared taxi to Soran/Diana (8000 Iraqi Dinar, 1.5 hours). Waited for another 2 hours for the taxi to be full.
Honeydew seller
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Since there are not many Asians around, everyone tried to talk to me. There is a guy who started to take a pic with me and then everyone wants to take a pic with me.
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Mountain View
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Arrived at Soran/Diana around 4.40pm.
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Took another shared taxi to Haji Omran (10,000 Iraqi Dinars, 1 hour). The taxi driver drove like a race car driver. His average speed is around 100km/hour driving around the mountains.
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Arrived in Haji Omran around 6pm and the taxi driver signaled that the border crossing is close for the day. I was a little frustrated because I wished to take the overnight bus to Tehran so I can apply for my Turkmenistan visa the next day. I have a time constraint because my Uzbekistan visa is just valid until Dec 1st so I need to move fast. Especially since the Turkmenistan consulate is famous for their bureaucracy.
Haji Omran is pretty small with many trucks and oil tankers waiting to cross the border
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I had to share a room at a crappy hotel without bed (10,000 Iraqi Dinar).
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Someone knocked on the door around 8pm and there were 2 guys wearing military clothes with machine guns. No one speak English here but I guess they wanted to see my passport and then I had to walk with them to a police station. It’s pretty dark and I thought if they were just some bogus military officer, they can just shoot me and nobody will know. There were 2 other Iranian guys that went with us so that made me felt a little better. We went into a dark old building without sign and there were another military officer who signaled me to leave my passport and come back and collect the next morning when I want to leave. It’s hard to communicate because they don’t speak English. He gave me a paper in Arabic and I guess that’s the paper to retrieve back my passport.

Nov 06 2009

Dohuk to Sulaymaniyah, Iraq

Met a few American soldiers on the street and tagged along with them for a walk. American soldiers are like super heroes here, everyone loves them.
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a street in Erbil
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Tried to find an ATM because I will need to withraw more cash for my next few destinations. I read that there is only one ATM in Erbil which work half of the time and it’s inside Hotel Sheraton. Found my way there but the ATM only accept VISA card. I left my VISA card at the Hotel so I wasn’t able to get cash. The security is pretty tight here and the hotel was surrounded by a thick wall
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and everyone needed to pass through a security checkpoint before allowed in.
Walked further down on Iskan street and found 2 more ATMs. I was surprise to be able to get USD from the ATM of Bank Karwa.
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This Is quite a surprising discovery because on Lonely Planet and many travellers forums, no one ever mentioned this and some travellers had to go back to Turkey in order to get cash.

There are a lot of constructions and rebuilding going on in Erbil
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Today is Friday and it’s a weekend here so many people go out to shop. Cars toward the bazaar and citadel.
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Met Nabil, an Iraqi living in Dubai at the hotel. He wanted to visit his family in Baghdad and stopped by Erbil.
We visited the Citadel.
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Took a taxi to Sulaymaniyah Garage (3500 Iraqi Dinar) and then took a shared taxi at 1pm to Sulaymaniyah (15,000 Iraqi Dinar ~USD13).
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Guys in Kurdish pants
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It’s around 200 km to Sulaymaniyah

and again we passed by many military checkpoints. My bags were spot checked a few times. Almost no one speak English here and many people can’t read romanized alphabet. Even though they had my passport, but they kept asking if I am from Korea or Japan because they weren’t able to read romanized alphabets. The ride to Sulaymaniyah will pass by the suburb of Kirkuk. Like Mosul, Kirkuk is one of the most dangerous city in Iraq so I was glad nothing happened.

Arrived at Sulaymaniyah around 4pm and the family I was with from the shared taxi invited me to stay with them. The father of the family speaks some English so I was able to understand what he is saying.
Kurds are very nice people.
Jalal, my host

Jalal’s family
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Itadakimasu..Iraqi Kurdish food
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Then watched Korean soap opera because there’s the only Asian channel they have on cabel.

From Diyarbakir to Sulaymaniyah, most people I met have been very friendly. Even though Northern Iraq is still part of Iraq and is only an autonomous region but they are more Kurdistan flag than Iraqi flag here. People here speak Kurdish which is a different language from Arabic and everyone is very proud of their heritage after being prosecuted for so long.

Nov 05 2009

Erbil, Iraq

Tried to go to Lallish which is like the Mecca for the religion Yazidi. It’s around 30km south east of Dohuk. We took a taxi to the garage for cabs to Lallish, but we ended up didn’t go because they quote us $30 for one way which is quite pricey.

Dohuk is surrounded by mountains
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Bazaar again
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Then took a shared taxi to Erbil (15,000 dinar each, 200 km away). Erbil is the capital of Northern Iraq and is one of the oldest city in the world. There were many military checkpoints on the way to keep out terrorist.
A military post
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I read that the road to Erbil will pass by the suburb of Mosul. Mosul is the most dangerous city in Iraq so I am glad to arrive in Erbil after 3 hours safe and sound.

The budget hotel recommended by lonely planet was full but we found another budget hotel, Hotel Ali (25,000 for a room, 12,250 each) which is at the south part of the Citadel.
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Erbil old city
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It’s very hard to find ATM here and I was a little concern because the 3 countries I am planning to visit next don’t seem to have ATM from what I read.

Walked around the bazaar and tried looking for an internet café. It cost around 2000 Iraqi Dinar for an hour but I wasn’t very productive on the computer with the slow connection.

Nov 04 2009

To Dohuk, Northern Iraq

There is a small bus station close to the Old Wall so just walked there and got a 8.30am bus ticket to Cizre (18TL).
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Passed by Mardin (A city on the hill) on the way to Cizre.

Met a British lady, Emily on the bus who is traveling to Northern Iraq as well. Arrived at Cizre around 12.30pm and took a shared taxi to cross the border at Silopi, Turkey to Zakho, Iraq. There were 3 passengers in the taxi and we paid the driver 30 TL. From Cizre to Silopi, it’s around 40 minutes drive.

We were able to get a 10 days Iraqi visa on arrival at the border
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and spent around an hour at the border before crossing over to Zakho which is not too bad.
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At Zakho, the iraqi side we took another taxi to Dohuk (USD 30 for the car, 15 USD each). Dohuk is the 3rd largest city in Northern Iraq and we arrived in Dohuk after an hour, around 4pm (The clock is an hour faster in Dohuk).
Got a shared room at Hotel Parleman (10,000 Iraqi dinar each, 1USD ~1180 Iraqi dinar).
Walked around the bazaar.
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In Dohuk, there were only electricity and water for 5 hours a day. They used generator most of the time.

Ate at Mandal restaurant, recommended in the Lonely Planet guide. There were many dishes and cost 8000 dinar each(USD7).
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Iraqi Dinar
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Almost no one speak English in Dohuk. Learned a little about the politics in Northern Iraq from Emily and the owner of the Hotel (he speak a mixture of Arabic, Kurdish and few words of English).

Didn’t feel well later at night and this is the second time I got food poisoning, not sure where did I get it.

Here is a little summary about the history of Iraq. Iraq was home to the earliest known civilization, the Sumerian civilization and Iraq has been home to continuous successive civilizations since the 6000 BC. Throughout its long history, Iraq has been the center of the Akkadian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Hellenistic, Parthian, Sassanid and Abbasid empires, and part of the Achaemenid, Roman, Rashidun, Umayyad, Mongol, Ottoman and British empires. Iraq gained independence from the Ottoman empire in 1919 and from the United Kingdom in 1932.

Became a republic in 1958 and after a few military coup, the Baath party gained power and Saddam Hussein rose to assume the presidency from 1979 until 2003 after which he was toppled by the US led invasion.
Saddam is a Sunni Muslim. After the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Iran became a Shiite Muslim theocratic state. Since there are more Shiites in Iraq, Saddam was afraid that the majority of the population will rebel against him. That’s one reason Saddam declared war on Iran.
The war ended in stalemate in 1988, largely due to American and Western support for Iraq. This was part of the US policy of “dual containment” of Iraq and Iran. Between half a million and 1.5 million people from both sides died in the 1980–88 war.

Saddam also attacked Iraqi Kurds and Shiites and commited many war crimes against them. After the Iran-Iraq war, the economy in Iraq was in shambles so Saddam attacked Kuwait to steal its resources. Iraq refused to withdraw from Kuwait against the demand of UN security council and was attacked by the US led international coalition.

On March 23rd, 2003. Bush claimed that Iraq was developing weapon of mass destruction and Iraq was attacked again. Government authority was transferred to an Iraqi Interim Government in June 2004, and a permanent government was elected in October 2005.

Today, cities such as Mosul and Kirkuk are dangerous because al-Qaeda took advantage of the insurgency to entrench itself in the country together with an Arab-Sunni led insurgency and violence. From what I heard is that Bin Laden paid some Arabs to create terror. Also soldiers from the Baath party during Saddam times lost everything so causing terror is their only way out.

Northern Iraq which is the region of Kurdistan is relatively safe. Kurdistan is sort of an autonomous region in Iraq, with its own government and military, the Peshmerga.


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