Foreign tourists are returning to Iraq now that the security situation has improved, officials and tourism experts say.
A Russian tourist group left Iraq Thursday (October 13th) after visiting a number of archaeological landmarks in Baghdad, Babil, Karbala, Dhi Qar, Muthanna and Basra.
The group consisted of nine tourists including three women. They spent one week in Iraq, during which they visited the Iraqi National Museum, some archaeological and heritage landmarks in Baghdad and Babil, as well as Telal al-Tar and Qusair Church in Karbala province.
The last stop of their visit included the archaeological sites of Ur, Lagash and Larsa, the Ahwar region in the city of Jabayesh in Dhi Qar province, as well as Uruk in the city of Samawa, Muthanna province.
"There are ongoing efforts to attract more tourist groups and revive the archaeological tourist sector," said Abdul Zahra al-Talaqani, spokesperson for the Iraqi State Ministry for Tourism and Antiquities.
"This sector has started to revive anew with the numbers of foreign tourists rising now that their fears about security in the country have been dispelled," he told Mawtani.com.
The Russian tourist group is the fourth group to arrive in Iraq since September.
Fadhil al-Saegh, manager of Rafadain Tourism and Travel, which organised the visit for the Russian tourists, said that the group's visit came in the wake of his company's efforts to promote tourism in Iraq through regular participation in tourist fairs in countries around the world.
"These fairs helped us present the true image of current conditions in Iraq, especially in terms of security," al-Saegh told Mawtani. "We tell representatives of participating countries that Iraq is stable in terms of security and that the conditions are not alarming."
Al-Saegh said that foreign tourists who come to Iraq express their surprise about the development and progress the country is witnessing on all levels.
"The signs of happiness and satisfaction were clear on their faces at every archaeological landmark or site they set foot on," he said. "They told us that they have always read and heard about the ancient civilisations of Iraq, but that they did not think that they would be able to see its antiquities so close."
Al-Saegh said his company soon plans to bring tourist groups from Italy, Germany and France.
Talal al-Zubaie, vice chair of the tourism and antiquities committee in the Iraqi parliament, expressed satisfaction with the increasing number of foreign tourist groups that come to visit archaeological sites in Iraq.
"It is a delightful thing to see the return of these groups after a long absence," he told Mawtani. "We hope that this return will be an incentive to pay more attention to tourism in the country."
Al-Zubaie called on the Iraqi government to pay attention to the archaeological tourism sector given its ability to attract tourists and money to Iraq.
"We should make great efforts to rehabilitate and reconstruct the archaeological sites, prepare features that attract tourists and encourage private-sector tourism companies," he said.