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    Tuesday, October 28, 2008

    Iraq's only tourist

    Irbil, Iraq - Thursday, Oct. 23

    I spent today wandering around the semi-restored remains of the Irbil citadel, a UNESCO world heritage site that overlooks the modern city from atop a hill in the centre of town.

    Obviously once majestic – parts of it are believed to date back to the 6th Century B.C., making Irbil one of the oldest human settlements in the world – the vast citadel is unsurprisingly in desperate need of work. While the Kurdish Textiles Museum at its heart is worth a visit, there's little to see in large swathes of the ancient fortress beside graffiti-covered stones. The building that should be the citadel's centerpiece, the former Ottoman pasha's palace, looks like a hurricane blew through it, leaving behind only trash and a few walls for local teenagers to scrawl their names on.

    Which raises the question, does the citadel need to be restored in order for tourists to consider coming to Irbil (let's pretend Iraq's security situation isn't an issue here – it's relatively calm in the Kurdish north), or is it a sad fact that no on will rebuild it until they see the first trickle of tourists and the colour of their money?

    As I wandered the deserted remains, I bumped into a lonely guard. He confessed that other than the occasional group of Kurdish schoolchildren, there wasn't much for him to do most days.

    "Sometimes the Americans come here on their day off. But sometimes there's nobody, or just one person," he said, giving me a sympathetic look.

    For dinner, I travelled to the nearby Christian town of Ainkawa where a German restaurant – Der Deutscher Haus – does booming business serving premium Bavarian beers and authentic goulash and schnitzels.

    Who says there's nothing for tourists in Iraq?

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