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Kurdistan Regional Government to establish new tourism directorates

Tourist visits are increasing each year to the autonomous part of northern Iraq, an area that offers many natural, cultural and religious attractions.
SAFIN HAMED/AFP via Getty Images

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq is adding two new tourism directorates in a bid to attract visitors

KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani said he plans to establish tourism directorates in the Soran district of the central province of Erbil and the Zakho district in the northwest province of Duhok. The decision aims to help the two districts better showcase their tourist sites, Kurdistan 24 reported today.  

Why it matters:  Tourist visits to the Kurdistan Region are increasing. In 2018 and 2019 — before the COVID-19 pandemic — more than 3 million people visited the autonomous area of northern Iraq annually. Tourism plummeted in 2020 due to the pandemic, but numbers are going up again. More than 4 million tourists visited in 2021. Visits are on track to exceed that figure this year, according to the Kurdish news outlet Rudaw. 

Zakho and Soran are particularly important to the tourism sector because they contain border crossings from Turkey and Iran, respectively.

The Kurdistan Region is home to numerous tourism attractions ranging from mountain hikes to Kurdish cultural sites:

  • Erbil citadel. The massive structure is 6,000 years old and is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in the world. 
  • Rabban Mar Hormizd monastery. The structure in the disputed town of Alqosh dates back to the seventh century. The Assyrian, Chaldean and Syriac communities in northern Iraq are some of the oldest Christian communities in the world. 
  • Lalish temple. The 4,000-year-old temple is the holiest site for the Yazidi ethno-religious group. They believe it is where Noah’s Ark first hit dry land following the flood. 
  • Korek Mountain. There is a winter resort at the top that can be accessed via a cable car. The journey up itself offers picturesque views of the mountainous area. 
  • Halabja Monument and Peace Museum. The museum commemorates the Halabja massacre of 1988, in which forces loyal to former Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein gassed thousands of Kurdish civilians to death.

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