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Western Tourist Reflects On Iraq Visit

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Western Tourist Reflects On Iraq Visit


Western Tourist Reflects On Iraq Visit

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Here's a sign of the times, the symbol of how things have changed in Iraq -western tourists are there on a two-week visit, the first group of western tourists to travel throughout Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Five Britons, two Americans and a Canadian have been visiting historic sites around the country.

Tina Townsend Greaves of Yorkshire, England is on the Mesopotamia tour. She joins us from Baghdad. And Ms. Greaves, it sounds like you've been all over, from the Kurdish north, all the way down to Basra in the south. What are some of the highlights for you?

Ms. TINA TOWNSEND GREAVES: Yes, the highlights, I think, have been Babylon and Samarra Spiral Minerettes. We've also had a chance to look at one of Saddam's palaces. We've been to Basra, and we've also looked around Baghdad.

BLOCK: And you've been to some scenes of dramatic sectarian violence over the year. You were in Karbala and Najaf, the Shiite shrines. You visited the mosque in Samarra, where there was a major bomb attack a few years ago that led to a whole spiral of violence.

Ms. GREAVES: Yes, we did go to the mosque in Samarra. The mosque was damaged by a bomb several years ago, but now it's been rebuilt, and it's looking wonderful.

BLOCK: Well, have you been concerned about security, safety while you're there?

Ms. GREAVES: We haven't had any security guards with us. We've just traveled on a minibus, eight tourists, along with a driver and a translator. We've kept a very low profile, and we haven't had any concerns about security, but we have been very sensible.

BLOCK: Do you feel like you've been able to get any real sense of daily life in Iraq in this trip?

Ms. GREAVES: There have been difficulties because of the problems here, but we have had the opportunity to meet local people. We've gone into the shops, we've gone into the tea houses, and people have been very gracious.

BLOCK: What kind of reaction do you get?

Ms. GREAVES: People are surprised we are tourists, but they're pleased that we're coming to Iraq, and they feel that tourists coming here is a big thing for them. It's this big step forward that people from the west feel safe to visit their country.

BLOCK: Has anybody said, we think you're crazy, you might be a Little premature?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GREAVES: Only back in England.

BLOCK: Well, the Iraqi tourism ministry has said that it expects your group to convey a positive message to folks back home that the situation in Iraq is good. As you head home this weekend, is that your message? What do you take from all this?

Ms. GREAVES: Yes. I think we can say that the security situation in Iraq is good and tourists can come here. Obviously, there is work to be done and this is the birth of tourism in Iraq. And (unintelligible) with the tourists yet, but that will come in the future.

BLOCK: That's Tina Townsend Greaves of Yorkshire, England. She's part of the first Western tour group to travel through Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. The group leaves Iraq this Sunday. Their trip was arranged by the British adventure travel company Hinterland Travel.

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