In a ‘"Dangerous" Land: Tourists Trickle Back to Iraq
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An American tourist poses for a holiday snap in Iraq, in front of the blue-brick Ishtar Gate that was rebuilt at the ancient site of Babylon under dictator Saddam Hussein.
Most foreigners here since Saddam's ouster in a 2003 US-led invasion have worn army fatigues and carried guns — but more recently there has been a trickle of camera-toting travel pioneers.
"Iraq was in my top three countries," said the visitor to Babylon, 50- year-old Californian Ileana Ovalle, who was excited to see the millennia-old Mesopotamian site.
"This is where civilisation started," said the passionate globetrotter with some 40 countries under her belt. "I think too few people understand how important this region is."
The tourist mini-boom has gained momentum since Iraq started granting visas on arrival for dozens of nationalities a year ago. Ovalle, along with 14 other tourists, said she was happy to take part in a trip organised by a travel agency which offers cultural, sports and adventure trips.
"The first thing that I noticed is the warmth, the generosity and the kindness of the Iraqi people," she said. "They smile, they welcome you, they are very polite."
Snap - to take a picture
Ouster - Removal from a position of power
Trickle - small flow of something
Globetrotter - someone who travels the world
Under her belt - to have experienced
Gained momentum - to become more popular