38 Best & Most Beautiful Places in Iraq (2022) – The Globetrotting Detective

38 Best & Most Beautiful Places in Iraq (2022) – The Globetrotting Detective

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19. ERBIL – THE CAPITAL CITY OF IRAQI KURDISTAN

Erbil is the capital city in Iraqi Kurdistan. It’s a quite large and vibrant metropolitan with a very beautiful historic center in downtown Erbil.

4 BEST PLACES TO VISIT IN ERBIL

1) ERBIL MAIN SQUARE

This is a place where you can hang around all day long. This is literally the best spot to get the vibe of the city of Erbil and what life in Erbil is like.

The main square of Erbil with the Kuridsh flag – Beautiful Places in Iraq

2) ERBIL CITADEL

The Erbil Citadel, also called Qelat, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2014. It’s not only a famous site in Erbil but one of the major landmarks in Iraq.

Here, be ready for making new friends with the locals  and get ready for selfies!

Taxi drivers, bazaar, old cafés and the Erbil Citadel in the historic center of Erbil

Part of the Erbil Citadel from the main square – Beautiful Places in Iraq

3) QAYSARI BAZAAR

Qaysari Bazaar is the covered bazaar located at the main square in downtown Erbil. Covered bazaars in Kurdistan and Iraq built in the early 13th century are all called qaysari bazaars.

Inside the covered bazaar of Erbil – Beautiful Places in Iraq

4) JALIL KHAYAT MOSQUE

Jalil Khayat Mosque, built between 2005 and 2007, is a very breathtaking mosque about 2 km from the Citadel of Erbil.

It has both astonishingly exquisite exteriors and interiors. Its architecture was inspired by Islamic architecture, al-Abbasi design (influenced by Persian architecture from Mesopotamia and Central Asian styles), and Ottoman design.

The colorful and majestic frontside of the Jalil Khayat Grand Mosque in Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan

The front side of the Jalil Khayat Mosque in Erbil – Beautiful Places in Iraq

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HOW TO GET TO ERBIL

TO ERBIL FROM THE AIRPORT INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

– By Private Taxi

You can either take a taxi from the arrival terminal. That can be expensive. Thus, the best you can just take the free shuttle bus to outside the airport.

There, you would be charged less, the normal rates. From the airport to the city center of Erbil, the rate is 12,000 Iraqi dinars (~ 7 € / 8 USD)

TO ERBIL FROM BAGHDAD

– With GMC Yukon shared taxi: 30,000 IQD (~ 20.50 USD / 18.20 €), ~ 370 km / 230 mi

TO ERBIL FROM MOSUL

– By shared taxi: 10,000 IQD (~ 6.80 USD / 5.80 €), 80 km / 50 mi
– By minibus: 4,000 IQD (~ 2.70 USD / 2.40 €), 80 km / 50 mi

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Do you want to know more about Erbil, the capital city of Iraqi Kurdistan? Check out my Erbil Travel Guide!

Best Things to Do in Erbil + Travel Tips

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20. LALISH – THE HOLY CITY OF YAZIDI FAITH – IRAQI KURDISTAN

THE IMPORTANCE OF LALISH

Lalish, which is about 4,000 years old, is surrounded by three picture-perfect mountains, the Hizrat, Misat and Arafat.

Lalish is a very famous holy place in Iraq and definitely one of the major landmarks in Iraq. It’s the holiest place for the followers of Yazidi faith, also known as Yazidism.

Lalish, the holy city of  Yazidis – Iraq Famous Places

YAZIDISM

Yazisdism is a monotheistic ethnic religion. The followers of Yazidism are the Yazidis. They believe in one God who created the world and after God created the world, he entrusted the world to the seven holy angels. The seven angels have a leader called Tawuse Melek and he is in charge of the world.

Yazidis are expected to do a six-day pilgrimage to Lalish at least once in their lifetime.

Before entering the Lalish,  you have to remove your shoes. Traditionally, Yazidis walk there barefoot. I was wearing five winter socks as it was too cold for me in November to walk just barefoot.

Yazidis celebrating New Year in Lalish

Yazidis celebrating a New year’s Eve in Lalish – Photo credit: Lena Ha

YAZIDI TRADITIONS

To really enjoy Lalish, you better understand Yazidi traditions. Here, you will find quite a lot of traditions that I had the chance to learn about in Lalish.

– When you step into the Temple of Sheikh Abi Ibn Musafir, you can see that the doorway has a raised sill. It’s everywhere the same in Lalish. The tradition is that you step over the sill and not on it.

– Here, you will see caskets covered with silk blankets called bari. These silk blankets symbolize the seven angels. The last tomb is the tomb of Sheikh Adi Ibn Musafir.  Yazidi pilgrims have to do three things when they are there.

First, they tie a knot with the silk blankets placed on the casket. Second, they untie one which was knotted before. Third, they walk around the tomb three times in the counter-clockwise direction.

– In other small temples, you can see women making the knots. While doing so, they wish for something from God.

– There is a room called Hesen Dana. It’s basically a place where olive oil is stored. This is the oil Yazidis use to ignite 365 lamps daily in Lalish, before sunset inside and outside the temples. This symbolizes the light of the sun which is the light of God itself.

– Bread Treasury: All Yazidi villages at the beginning of the third month visit the temple with bread and milk, and in this place, they store bread and every person who visits the temple has the right to take from this bread.

–  Wish Tree: Visitors to the Lalish Temple hang or place small pieces of cloth or threads on this tree and wish for something from God. When I was there I was also walking around the tree with a couple of Yazidi girls.

– Mount Arafat: It’s the most sacred mountain for Yazidis. Holy religious ceremonies are held on this mountain.

– Stona Marza: It’s the think conical column for making wishes.  If you place your hands around the column and if you can touch your right and left hand while hugging the column, according to Yazidi traditions, your wish will be fulfilled.

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HOW TO TRAVEL TO LALISH FROM DOHUK

– By shared Taxi: 37 km, ~ 5000 Iraqi Dinars (~ 3.50 € / 4 USD)

I took a private taxi in Dohuk to an intersection where I found a lot of shared taxis. For this ride, I paid 3,000 Iraqi Dinars (~ 2 € / 2.50 USD) which is the usual fare in Dohuk for getting from A to B. When you are in the taxi, just say Duhok shared taxi and the taxi can take you there.

At this intersection, you will see a lot of men standing. That’s how you know that the shared taxis start from there.

HOW TO TRAVEL TO LALISH FROM ERBIL

– By private taxi: 130 km. Hire a car, a driver or a tour guide. It’s not feasible by public transport.

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21. ALQOSH – ANCIENT CHRISTIAN CITY  – IRAQI KURDISTAN

THE IMPORTANCE OF ALQOSH

Alqosh is a small village with ethnic Assyrians and Syriac Christians living there. There are many Christian villages in Iraqi Kurdistan. But this one is the most famous one because it’s several thousand years old and full of old churches and it even has a cloister.

The inhabitants of Alqosh generally belong to the Chaldean Catholic Church.

Did you know that the number of Christians in Iraq is somewhere between 500,000 and 1.5 million?

Church in Alqosh in norther Iraq

Church in Alqosh, in the oldest Christian village in Iraq – Places to Visit in Iraq

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HOW TO TRAVEL TO ALQOSH

The only way to get there by car. You should either have your own car or hire a taxi.

I traveled there with a friend of mine from Al-Shikhan which is 28 km from Alqosh. The shared taxi for the two of us cost 11,000 Iraqi dinars (~8 € / 9 USD).

TO ALQOSH FROM DUHOK

It’s around 50 km. So, you can probably find a shared taxi to Alqosh.

TO ALQOSH FROM ERBIL

It’s about 130 km. I would recommend you hire a car or a driver.

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22. RABBAN HORMIZD MONASTERY – ANCIENT CHRISTIAN MONASTERY – IRAQI KURDISTAN

ABOUT THE RABBAN HORMIZD MONASTERY

The Rabban Hormizd Monastery is carved into and out of the rocks of a mountain. It belongs to the Chaldean Catholic Church which is an Eastern Catholic Church.

It was founded around 640 AD by Rabban Hormizd. Hormizd means monk in the ancient Syriac language.

One of the the oldest Christian monasteries built into the mountains

Rabban Hormizd Monastery – Beautiful Places in Iraq

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HOW TO TRAVEL TO THE RABBAN HORMIZD MONASTERY FROM ALQOSH

It’s 4,6 km from Alqosh. If you hire a guide or car, they will take you there. I walked from Alqosh. It’s about an hour walk uphill.

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23. MAR MATTAI MONASTERY – IRAQI KURDISTAN

ABOUT THE MAR MATTAI MONASTERY

The Mar Mattai Monastery is one of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world. The hermit, Mar Mattai, after living in isolation for decades in caves in the mountains, he founded by the hermit Mar Mattai in the year 363

Today, the monastery is maintained by the Syriac Orthodox Church.

This ancient monastery is hidden in an epic location on the top of Mount Alfaf with an incredibly beautiful vista over the vast plains of Northern-Iraq.

The building of the monastery is carved into and out of the rocks of Mount Alfaf.

The most important day in the life of the monastery is 18th September. On this day, Christians of all denominations gather and commemorate the death of Mar Mattai.

From the monastery, you have an incredibly beautiful view of the vast plains of Northern-Iraq.

Several thousand years old Christian monastery built on a hilltop

Mar Mattai Monastery – Beautiful Places in Iraq

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HOW TO TRAVEL TO THE MAR MATTAI MONASTERY

There is no public transport going there. The only way to get there is by car.

Mar Mattai Monastery is about 95 km from Dohuk. And the distance is the same from Erbil as well.

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24. DUHOK – IRAQI KURDISTAN

ABOUT DUHOK

Duhok is a very important strategic location.

From Duhok, you can take day trips to visit Mar Mattai Monastery, Alqosh, Lalish and Amediya.

Moreover, it’s a wonderful place for visiting local markets to buy fresh fruits and nuts, supermarkets to buy snacks for your day trips, juice shops to drink fresh juices and antique shops to buy old coins and bank notes.

Duhok has amazing cafes and restaurants as well.

Make sure, you try the restaurant called Akre. For, 8-10,000 Iraqi Dinar, you get a main course accompanied by tons of appetizers, water and tea.

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HOW TO TRAVEL TO DUHOK FROM ERBIL

– By shared taxi: 15,000 Iraqi dinar (~ 10 € / 13 USD), 151 km / 94 mi

HOW TO TRAVEL TO DUHOK FROM AMADIYAH

– By shared taxi: from Sulav (the village next to Amadiya), 6,000 Iraqi dinar (4.50 € / 5 USD), 67 km / 42 mi

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25. AKRE / AQRAH – IRAQI KURDISTAN

ABOUT AKRE

Akre, also called Aqrah, is a small town located on the road between Erbil and Soran. The town was built on the side of a mountain range about 2,500 years ago.

The old town of Akre surrounded by the mountains of Kurdistan – Beautiful Places in Iraq

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HOW TO TRAVEL TO AKRE FROM ERBIL

– By shared taxi: 10,000 IQD (7.50 € / 8.40 USD), ~ 100 km / 62 mi

HOW TO TRAVEL TO AKRE FROM SORAN

– By private taxi: 77 km / 48 mi. No public transport.

– Hitchhiking: I hitchhiked with an American guy I met in Soran. It was awesome. I met such amazing people on the road.

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Do you want to know more about Akre? Check out how I hitchhiked to Akre and how I spent my day there!

Day Trip to Akre in Iraqi Kurdistan 

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26. SORAN – IRAQI KURDISTAN

ABOUT SORAN

Soran is a small village surrounded by epic mountains. It’s a wonderful place to stay for a couple of days to discover the incredibly fascinating mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan.

If you stay in Soran, you can take a day to wander in the village of Soran and discover the mountains around Soran.

From Soran, you can easily visit Rawanduz Valley, the Geli Ali Beg Waterfall and the Bekhal Waterfall.

In my personal opinion, Soran and Rawanduz are the most beautiful part of Kurdistan.

The mountains around the town of Soran in Kurdistan – Beautiful Places in Iraq

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HOW TO TRAVEL TO SORAN FROM ERBIL

– By shared taxi: 10,000 IQD (7.50 € / 8.40 USD), ~ 107 km / 66 mi

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27. RAWANDUZ CANYON – IRAQI KURDISTAN

ABOUT RAWANDUZ VALLEY

You can admire the beauty of Ranwanduz from above the canyon or in the valley. There are a couple of popular viewpoints from which you can see the mindblowing beauty of Rawanduz.

Alternatively, you can hike in the Valley of Rawanduz. I did both. They are both incredible experience.

One of the best viewpoints in Rawanduz – Beautiful Places in Iraq

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Hiking inside Rawanduz Valley – Beautiful Places in Iraq

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HOW TO TRAVEL TO RAWANDUZ CANYON

– By private car: I have been there three times. Each time my friends drove me there. You can, of course, go there by private taxi or with a guide.

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Do you want to know more about Soran and Rawanduz Valley? Check out

Soran and Rawanduz Valley in Iraqi Kurdistan 

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28. BEKHAL WATERFALL – IRAQI KURDISTAN

ABOUT THE BEKHAL WATERFALLS

About 7 km from the Rawanduz Viewpoint, you find the Bekhal Waterfalls.

This place is a very touristic place with countless waterfalls, cafés and restaurants.

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HOW TO TRAVEL TO THE BEKHAL WATERFALL

– By shared taxi: It’s possible to travel there by share taxi. But I have no idea how. 🙂 I got into a shared taxi by chance. After hiking in Rawanduz Valley, I was on the road and I just waved down a car that seemed to be a shared taxi.

– By private taxi: The best way to get there is by taxi. Shared taxis might come along though by chance when you need it.

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29. GELI ALI BEG WATERFALL – IRAQI KURDISTAN

ABOUT THE GELI ALI BEG WATERFALL

The Geli Ali Beg Waterfall is also a very touristic place.  Here, you’ll have water all around the waterfall and you can walk barefoot in the cold water. Bring flip-flops and a towel for this lovely adventure.

The entrance fee is 1,000 Iraqi dinars (~ 0.70 € / 0.80 USD).

I was personally most blown away on the way there. The mountain road from Erbil to the waterfall is literally breathtaking.

On the summit of the highest mountain in Iraq – Iraq Beautiful Places

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HOW TO TRAVEL TO THE GELI ALI BEG WATERFALL

– By private car: The best way to get there is by taxi or with a guide.

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30. HALGURD – THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN OF IRAQ

ABOUT HALGURD MOUNTAIN

Halgurd Mountain is Iraq’s highest mountain with an altitude of 3,607 meters. I climbed Halgurd Mountain with my Kurdish friends in November.

Foreigners need a permit if they want to climb there. The free permit is necessary for foreigners for security reasons.

Climbing Ira’s highest mountain is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You have to start it very early latest at 3 am and it’s quite challenging. But once you are on the summit of the highest mountain in Iraq, you’ll feel the happiest person on earth.

On the top of the highest mountain of Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan: Halgurd Mountain at 3607 meteres. If you want to know more about how to climb the hihest moutain of Iraq, check out my travel blog.

On the summit of the highest mountain in Iraq – Iraq Beautiful Places

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HOW TO TRAVEL TO HALGURD

You need to find a professional hiking team or company from Erbil to travel to Coman and climb Halgurd.

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Read more about how to climb the highest mountain of Iraq!

Climbing Iraq’s Highest Mountain

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31. ZORAGVAN VALLEY – IRAQI KURDISTAN

ABOUT ZORAGVAN VALLEY

Zoragvan Valley situated in the Zoragvan National Park is a lush green valley with an epic hiking route along which beautiful creeks and waterfalls are sparkling. I absolutely loved it. It is one of those places in Iraqi Kurdistan that I would have never learned about if I’m not active with stories on Instagram.

Hiking in the Zoragvan Valley looks like this – Iraq Beautiful Places

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HOW TO TRAVEL TO ZORAGVAN VALLEY

– Private taxi: As there is no public transport, you would probably need a guide to take you there.

– Hitchhiking: I hitchhiked solo from Soran to a village closeby where I had friends waiting for me. Then we went there by car. I was stopped and interrogated by the checkpoint on the way. I answered all the questions respectfully, I was invited for lunch by the soldiers at the checkpoints, had lunch with them and hit the road again.  It was a very interesting experience.

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32. DORE CANYON near BARZAN – IRAQI KURDISTAN

ABOUT DORE CANYON

Not far from the town of Barzan, you can find the epic Dore Canyon which was shaped by the Rubar Shakiu River, a tributary of the Great Zab River. You can find the viewpoint indicated on my map.

Alternatively or additionally, you can also plan a hike in the valley.

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Read more about how I hitchhiked from Soran, had lunch with Kurdish soldiers, hiked in Zoragvan Valley and Barzan, then hitchhiked to Amedi.

Hitchhiking and hiking in Iraqi Kurdistan: Soran-Zoragvan-Barzan-Amedi-Duhok

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HOW TO TRAVEL TO BARZAN VALLEY

– Private taxi: As there is no public transport, you would probably need a guide to take you there.

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33. DERALOK DAM – IRAQI KURDISTAN

ABOUT THE DERALOK DAM

Once, you get to the Deraluk Dam, you have two options. You can either go to the family area or go to the mens’ part.

For both the mens’ and family area, the entrance is 2,000 IQD  (~ 1.40 € / 1.70 USD) per person, and parking your car costs 5,000 IQD (~ 3.50 € / 4.20 USD).

If you want a place in the family area where you can sit and spend time with your family or friends, it costs 25,000 IQD (~ 14 € / 17 USD). In the mens’ area there is no such system.

Just remember if you are only guys, you can’t go to the family area. You need at least one female friend to go to the family area.

If you go to the mens’ area, bring your own food because there is no restaurant there. In the family area; however, you will find restaurants as well.

I went to the mens’ part with my friends. Walking along the river was absolutely epic.

Note: Collect your rubbish and take it home. Otherwise, if people leave their rubbish there, this place won’t look that beautiful.

Crossing the river of Deraluk Dam

Hiking in the water of Deralok Dam – Beautiful Places in Iraq

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Photostooting on the rocks Deralok Dam – Beautiful Places in Iraq

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HOW TO TRAVEL TO DERALUK

– Private taxi: As there is no public transport, you would probably need a guide to take you there.

I traveled to Deraluk by car with local friends.

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34. AMADIYAH – IRAQI KURDISTAN

ABOUT AMADIYA

Amadiya is also called Amedi. It was built by the ancient Assyrian Empire about 5,000 years ago. on a flat top of a mountain 1,400 m (4,600 ft) above sea level.

The view of Amadiyah from the road – Best Places to Visit in Iraq

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HOW TO TRAVEL TO AMEDIYAH FROM DUHOK

By shared taxi: 6,000 IQD (4.5 € / 5 USD), ~ 72 km / 45 mi

HOW TO TRAVEL TO AMEDIYAH FROM ERBIL

The distance is about 220 km. You should have your own car, a driver or tour guide if you want to take a day trip to Amedi. 

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35. RANYA – IRAQI KURDISTAN

ABOUT RANYA

Ranya is a city that I visited by chance. It’s a really good idea to discover Ranya on your way to Sulaymaniyah.

I  really loved hanging around in Ranya with my Kurdish friends. In Ranya, I discovered the heart of Ranya: the charming main street, the bazaar, cafés, and street food options. Foreigners rarely visit Ranya, I think. That is what makes it more intriguing and fascinating.

Kurdish men sitting wearing traditional Kurdish closthing in Ranya, Kurdistan

Local men sitting in Ranya – Best Places to Visit in Iraq

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HOW TO TRAVEL TO RANIA FROM ERBIL

By minibus: 6,000 IQD (4.5 € / 5 USD), ~ 110 km / 68mi, 2 h 30 mins

There is a big station just across the International Bus Terminal where you can find shared taxis and minibuses.

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36. DUKAN LAKE – IRAQI KURDISTAN

ABOUT DUKAN LAKE

From Ranya, drive to Dukan Lake. Imagine,  it’s the largest lake in Iraq. In fact, it’s an artificial reservoir on the Little Zab River which was created when the Dukan Dam was built.

Some parts of the lakeshore are surrounded by green and yellow hills and some parts are surrounded by hills making you feel like you are in the desert.

Some parts are very touristy where you can find hotels, restaurants, swimming, fishing and boating opportunities. Where I went with my Kurdish friends was totally deserted. We were the only ones there.

The Dukan Lake close to Ranya

Dukan Lake from the shore – Beautiful Places in Iraq

Prepering and smoking shisha in the water of Dukan Lake in Ranya

Smoking shisha – Fun Things to Do in Iraq

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Preparing chai on the beach – Fun Things to Do in Iraq

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HOW TO TRAVEL TO DUKAN LAKE

By private car: I traveled to Dukan Lake with my local friends.

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37. SULEYMANIYAH – IRAQI KURDISTAN

ABOUT SULAYMANIYAH

Sulaymaniyah, also called Suli, Slemani or Sulaimani is the most modern city in Iraqi Kurdistan with a lot of universities. Thus, there are a lot of young people all around the city.

3 BEST THINGS TO DO IN SULAYMANIYAH

1) VISITING THE AMNA SURAKA PRISON

Amna Suraka, also known as the Red Prison, was one of the headquarters of Iraq’s secret intelligence agency, Mukharbarat. In this establishment, they tortured and imprisoned Iraq’s Kurds And Assyrians from 1986 to 1991.

Let me give you a little bit of background info. Between 1986 and 1989, under the Al-Anfal Campaign, during the Iraq-Iran War (September 1980 – August 1988), Saddam Hussein, then the President of Iraq, commanded the extermination of the entire Kurdish population in Iraq.

This order was executed by Ali Hassan Al-Majid who used among others aerial bombing, settlement destruction, and chemical warfare. As a result, several thousands of Iraqi Kurds were tortured and imprisoned in Amna Suraka, and approximately 100,000 Iraqi Kurds and several thousands of Assyrians were murdered.

In 1991, during the first Gulf War, the Peshmerga, the Kurdish guerilla army captured Amna Suraka. Today, it functions as a national Museum of War Crimes which serves as a memorial center for the victims of the Anfal genocide.

Entrance: free

VISITING THE SULAYMANIYAH MUSEUM

It’s an archaeological museum. At the moment, it’s the largest museum open in Iraq.

Entrance: free

TRYING CAFÉS & RESTAURANTS IN SULI

Get to know Suli simply by roaming around and trying cafés. That’s what I did with my Kurdish friends. When you are in Suli and you don’t know anyone there, just contact people on Couchsurfing. I’m sure many locals will be happy to join you discovering this wonderful city.

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HOW TO TRAVEL TO SULAYMANIYAH FROM ERBIL

By shared taxi: 15,000 Iraqi dinar (~ 8 € / 10 USD), ~ 200 km / 124 mi, ~ 3 h 30 mins

HOW TO TRAVEL TO SULAYMANIYAH FROM RANIA

By shared taxi: 10,000 Iraqi dinar (~ 6 € / 7 USD), ~ 128 km / 80 mi, ~ 2 h 15 mins

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38. HALABJA – IRAQI KURDISTAN

THE IMPORTANCE OF HALABJA

Halabja is approximately 75 km (47 mi) from Suleimani. It’s famous because a disastrous event, namely the Halabja chemical attack, took place here. The Halabja chemical attack is also known as the Halabja Massacre or the Bloody Friday.

The Halabja chemical attack was part of the aforementioned Al-Anfal Campaign, during the time of the Iraq-Iran War.

On the day of 16th March 1988, thousands of Kurds were massacred and injured in the Kurdish city of Halabja in Iraqi Kurdistan. Iraqi aircraft were dropping chemical bombs on the residential areas of 24 Kurdish-populated villages including Halabja for about five hours.

This heinous crime was committed by the Arab Socialist Baath Party led by Saddam Hussein.

Several years later, the Halabja massacre was recognized as a genocide by the Iraqi High Criminal Court, and Saddam Hussein was executed on 30th December 2006 for war crimes against humanity including the Halabja genocide.

Today, in Halabja, you find the Halabja Museum and Memorial Cemetery where you can learn more about this deadly event.

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HOW TO TRAVEL TO HALABJA FROM SULAYMANIYAH

By shared taxi: 6,000 Iraqi dinar (~ 5 € / 7 USD), ~ 75 km / 47 mi, ~ 1 h 30 mins

Author: Arthur Campbell