By John Lee.

Iraq and Iran have reportedly signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) relating to cooperation in the tourism sector.

According to Tehran Times, the document includes the areas of medical tourism and religious tourism, and was agreed between Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, and Iraq’s Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Antiquities.

In March, Tehran and Baghdad agreed to waive fees on visas in the hope of increasing the tourist numbers.

(Source: Tehran Times)

By Padraig O’Hannelly.

Our friend and former contributor Robert Tollast has been touring Iraq’s religious and archeological sites.

Writing in Middle East Eye, he says:

“Iraq still gives visitors a sense of having a private viewing of some of the world’s wonders, such as the 4,000-year-old ruins of Babylon, and the awe-inspiring Holy Shrines of Hussein and Ali with their intricate mirrored ceilings and breathtaking tile work.”

His full article can be read here.

(Picture Credit: Middle East Eye / Charlotte Mayhew)

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad hasd advised all U.S. citizens of heightened tensions in Iraq and the requirement to remain vigilant.

Actions to Take:

  • Do not travel to Iraq
  • Avoid places known as U.S. citizen gathering points.
  • Keep a low profile
  • Be aware of your surroundings

Assistance:

U.S. Embassy Baghdad
Al-Kindi Street, International Zone, Baghdad
Telephone (during business hours)

From Iraq:  0760-030-3000;

From the United States:  301-985-8841
U.S. Citizen Emergency After-Hours Telephone (ask for the duty officer)

From Iraq:  0760-030-3000;

From the United States:  301-985-8841

E-mail: BaghdadACS@state.gov
Website: https://iq.usembassy.gov/

U.S. Consulate General Erbil
413 Ishtar, Ankawa Erbil, Iraq
Telephone (during business hours)

From Iraq:  0760-030-3227;

From the United States:  240-264-3467 extension 4554
U.S. Citizen Emergency After-Hours Telephone (ask for the duty officer)

From Iraq:  066-211-4554;

From the United States:  240-264-3467

E-mail: ErbilACS@state.gov
Website: https://iq.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/erbil/

State Department – Consular Affairs
888-407-4747 or 202-501-4444

(Source: US Embassy)

By John Lee.

The head of Iraqi Kurdistan’s Board of Tourism has reportedly said that tourism is expected to “approach” 15 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2025.

Mawlawi Jabar Wahab told Rudaw that this would be roughly double the sector’s current size.

Visitor numbers are now beginning to climb once more, topping three million in 2018.

More here.

(Source: Rudaw)

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the fact that each year, 7 million Iraqis and Iranians visit each other’s country is a sign of the two neighboring countries’ close ties.

Speaking at a meeting with Iraqi Parliament Speaker Mohammed Al-Halbousi in Baghdad on Monday, attended by the chairmen of the Iraqi parliamentary factions, Zarif hailed the relations between the two countries, the parliamentary ties in particular.

The fact that seven million Iranians and Iraqis visit each other’s country each year is an outstanding sign of “the proximity of the two great nations,” Zarif said.

Every year, a large number of Iranians visit Iraq for pilgrimage. Iranian pilgrims travel to Karbala, Najaf and Baghdad to pay homage to Shia Imams buried in Iraq.

Iraqis visit the Iranian cities of Mashhad and Qom for pilgrimage.

The Iraqi parliament speaker, for his part, referred to the two countries’ common interests and praised Iran’s role in helping the Iraqi people defeat the Daesh (ISIS or ISIL) terror group.

Daesh militants made swift advances in much of northern and western Iraq over the summer of 2014, after capturing large swaths of northern Syria.

However, a combination of concentrated attacks by the Iraqi military and the volunteer forces, who rushed to take arms after top Iraqi cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a fatwa calling for fight against the militants, blunted the edge of Daesh offensive.

In November 2017, the self-proclaimed caliphate of Daesh collapsed after Syrian and Iraqi armed forces and their allies managed to recapture the terror group’s last strongholds in the two Arab countries.

(Source: Tasnim, under Creative Commons licence)

The number of tourists visiting the Kurdistan Region this year reached a record high, according to Mr. Mawlawi Jabar, Chairman of the General Board of Tourism.

In an interview with the Kurdistan Regional Government website, Mr. Jabar noted:

In the first six months of 2018, 1.3 million tourists visited the Kurdistan Region, mostly from central and southern Iraq. During the 11-day Eid al-Adha holiday, there were 349,000 tourists, spending 140 billion dinars in the Region.

“In the first four months of 2018 there was a good influx of Iranian tourists visiting the Region. After the Iranian authorities imposed taxes on its citizens for traveling abroad, however, the number significantly decreased. Though smaller in numbers, tourists from other countries are also preferring to visit the Region.

While neighboring countries offer lower costs to Iraqi tourists, the ratio of Iraqi tourists visiting the Kurdistan Region continues to rise.

Mr. Jabar added:

A comprehensive tourism development strategy has been in place since 2014, but the ISIS war and financial crises restricted implementation of strategic plans. Since 2016, however, implementation has been gradually reactivated. For example, loans have been extended to small and medium tourism projects.

“The Board of Tourism has a special department for invigorating protection of the environment. To raise awareness, we are working to protect the environment through the media, publications and other awareness tools.

Regarding private sector’s role in developing tourism, he said, “Part of the strategic plan is to support the essential role of the private sector. He said Kurdistan’s tourism companies have good relations with companies abroad and play an important role in attracting tourists.

He said, “Tourism investment has rapidly grown in the Kurdistan Region and its effectiveness is illustrated by the rising number of visitors and revenue.

(Source: KRG)

By John Lee.

Erbil’s mayor has reportedly warned hotel and motel operators against taking advantage of the increased numbers of tourists by driving up prices and breaking contracts:

Nabaz Abdulhamid told Rudaw:

“Any hotel or motel owner that hikes up the prices and revokes the signed contracts will be punished severely.”

In the past three days, 15,000 tourists from southern and central Iraq have travelled to Erbil.

More here.

(Source: Rudaw)

By John Lee.

Tourism in Iraqi Kurdistan has reportedly been hard hit following Baghdad imposed punitive measures on the Kurdistan Region following the independence referendum.

Many restaurants and guesthouses in Erbil have had to lay off employees after international flights were banned and the borders temporarily closed.

According to Rudaw, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) had planned to invest in modern infrastructure and build hundreds of new tourist attractions across the Region, spending an estimated $100 million over the coming years to revive and develop an industry which many believed would be profitable in the long-run.

More here from Rudaw.

(Source: Rudaw)

Finland’s Nokia will modernize and expand Zain Iraq‘s radio networks with its most advanced technologies across Karbala, Najaf and Basra, with a special focus on the holy cities of Karbala and Najaf, to support the expected increase in data and voice traffic during Zeyara as millions of people converge on the region.

Zeyara is an annual event in the holy city of Karbala, which culminates in the event of Al Arba’een. It attracts visitors from across the globe and is one of the world’s largest public gatherings.

Once completed, the upgrade will allow users to enjoy improved indoor and outdoor coverage in both urban and rural areas as well as increased data throughput, leading to an overall superior customer experience.

Nokia’s project management and proven services expertise will be used to expand and modernize Zain Iraq’s 2G and 3G network, providing ubiquitous coverage and faster mobile broadband.

Additionally, the Nokia Mass Event Handler will be deployed to address the surge in data and voice consumption expected during Zeyara. The network modernization will allow visitors to remain continuously connected with their loved ones through superior voice and data connectivity during Al Arba’een and beyond.

Ali Al-Zahid, Chief Executive Officer of Zain Iraq, said:

Our top priority is to provide superior services for our subscribers. This network modernization and expansion is only the beginning of providing the best possible service quality and coverage with the most advanced technologies across the overall Karbala and Najaf and rest of sourthern region.

“We selected Nokia, our longstanding technology partner, for this important project, as we are confident that its advanced technologies will enable our network to provide such superior services. The current project will also enable a best-in-class mobile experience for visitors to Zeyara when we expect a high turnout this year.

Bernard Najm, head of the Middle East Market Unit at Nokia, said:

“Nokia fully understands Zain Iraq’s requirements and is committed to providing leading technologies to enable pioneering services for its subscribers. Nokia’s solutions cater to the unique connectivity requirements of mass events, and will help Zain Iraq address the expected surge in data and voice consumption during Zeyara.”

Overview of the solutions:

  • The high capacity and energy-efficient Nokia Flexi Multiradio 10 Base Station will be used to add the third carrier of 5 MHz on the 900 MHz band, to enhance capacity and increase coverage in suburban and rural areas.
  • Nokia’s Mass Event Handler will ensure network performance is not adversely affected because of heavy traffic during Zeyara. Another feature of the software – HSUPA Interference Cancellation – handles data more efficiently, enabling end users to upload pictures without any network glitch.
  • Nokia FlexiZone will be deployed to enhance coverage and capacity of the existing 3G network in Karbala.
  • Nokia’s refarming service will refarm GSM 900 MHz frequency to expand the operator’s 3G network.
  • Nokia’s NetAct virtualized network management software will provide robust capabilities for troubleshooting, assurance, administration, software management and configuration.
  • Nokia’s Network Planning and Optimization (NPO), Network Implementation , and Care services will ensure smooth execution of the project and maximize the return on Zain’s technology investments.

(Source: Nokia)

An official in the Arabian Gulf has stated that construction companies and others in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) look forward to participating in reconstruction projects in Iraq, stressing that it has the potential to qualify for this role.

Abdul Rahim Naqi, secretary-general of the Council of Chambers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) stated that the Gulf States have made significant progress in many fields, including communications, construction and tourism.

Naqi said that if the Iraqi government supported the use of the private sector in the reconstruction of Iraq then Gulf companies would be looking for investment opportunities in the field of construction and reconstruction in Iraq

(Source: GardaWorld)