Travel Consideration: Iraq

Contributed By RealAdventures

The Republic of Iraq is governed by the repressive regime under Saddam Hussein. Iraq’s economy was seriously damaged in the 1991 Gulf War. U.N sanctions have also affected the economy, including increased crime and decreased availability of medical services. Tourist facilities are not widely available. The workweek in Iraq is Sunday through Thursday.

Should you travel to Iraq, despite the Travel Warning, passports and visas are required. On February 8, 1991, U.S. passports ceased to be valid for travel to, in or through Iraq and may not be used for that purpose unless a special validation has been obtained. See paragraphs on Passport Validation and U.S. Government Economic Sanctions. For visa information, contact the Iraqi Interests Section of the Algerian Embassy, 1801 P Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036, telephone 202-483-7500.

Since Desert Fox, Iraq has actively targeted U.S./coalition flights within the no-fly zone and greatly increased the security concerns. U.S. citizens and other foreigners working near or traveling to the Kuwait-Iraq border have been detained by Iraqi authorities for lengthy periods under harsh conditions. In response to the Iraqi government's stated inability to protect American and British personnel, the United Nations has withdrawn all American and British UN humanitarian workers from Iraq. Parts of northern Iraq are currently outside the central government's control. These areas are administered by local Kurdish authorities. In southern Iraq, governmental repression of the Shia communities is severe. Government authorities may not have full control of all areas of the South. Travel in the South, particularly at night may be hazardous.

All foreigners using some mode of transportation must obtain a special permit from the Iraqi authorities to travel within Iraq. All cars are inspected at checkpoints located at the city limits. Security personnel, regular police officers, sometimes officers or non-commissioned officers of the Republican Guard units and the military police staff these checkpoints. Guides or chauffeurs of rented cars carrying groups of visitors are expected to cooperate with security authorities.

Iraqi security personnel may place foreign visitors under surveillance. Hotel rooms, telephones, and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched. Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in problems with authorities or, at least, in the confiscation of film and camera. Carrying maps and making some annotations on them while sightseeing may lead to very serious charges.

Reports of crime in Iraq are increasing, especially in the larger cities. Thefts of money, jewelry, or valuable items left in hotel rooms are common. There are cases of pickpocketing in busy places like bazaars. It is not advisable to visit suburbs of big cities after dark or alone. Although traveling by private car to Iraq is unlikely, any involvement in a traffic accident could be very dangerous and costly (so-called blood money could be promptly requested.) There are reports of some unscrupulous taxi drivers. Avoid traveling alone by taxi with a large sum of money.

Iraqi authorities may not be in full control of the security situation in some areas in the south. Some cars and buses have been stopped on highways particularly at night. Passengers have been robbed at gun point. In some cases, the cars are also stolen.

Basic modern medical care and medicines may not be available. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars or more. Medical facilities do not meet U.S. standards and frequently lack medicines and supplies. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services. U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States. U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States.

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Iraq is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Safety of public transportation: poor
Urban road conditions/maintenance: fair
Rural road conditions/maintenance: narrow
Availability of roadside assistance: available in the cities, occasionally on large highways and at main exits.

Buses run irregularly and frequently change routes. Poorly-maintained city transit vehicles are often involved in accidents. Long distance buses are very slow but in good condition. Jaywalking is common. Drivers usually do not yield to pedestrians at crosswalks, and ignore traffic lights, traffic rules and regulations. Some motorists drive at excessive speeds, tailgate and force other drivers to yield the right of way.

The U.S. does not have diplomatic relations with Iraq, and there is no U.S. Embassy in Iraq. The Embassy of Poland represents U.S. interests in Iraq; however, its ability to assist American citizens is limited. Comprehensive UN sanctions on Iraq imposed following Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait prohibit all economic and financial transactions with the Government of Iraq, persons or entities in Iraq unless specifically authorized by the UN. Since 1998, foreigners traveling in Iraq may legally exchange foreign currency in money exchange kiosks or bureaus (run privately or state banks). Payments for hotel, renting a taxi, etc. must be paid in foreign currency. No ATM machines exist.

Iraq has strict customs regulations. Upon arrival, a traveler must declare any foreign currency, audio-visual equipment, satellite telephones, personal computers and especially modems. There may be difficulty in obtaining a permit to take these items out when leaving Iraq. The Iraqi authorities may request the surrender of such equipment for depositing at the border (there might be then difficulties in reclaiming it when leaving Iraq). Videotapes may be confiscated. Carrying firearms and pornography are forbidden. Any news publications may be regarded as hostile propaganda and confiscated. Usually cars are very thoroughly checked. Offering gifts to inspectors may result in charges of bribery which could lead to serious consequences. Generally, export of gold, foreign currency, any more valuable equipment, antiquities and expensive carpets is forbidden.

All foreigners (except diplomats) are requested to take an AIDs or HIV test at the border. Sanitary conditions at the Ministry of Health border stations are questionable.

In accordance with the Iraqi law, any child whose father is an Iraqi citizen is also considered an Iraqi citizen. Even if the names of children are written in their mother's foreign passport, Iraqi authorities may consider the children Iraqi citizens if the father is Iraqi. Children require their father's permission to travel.

Women under the age of 45 must travel with an escort, such as her husband, father, or a close male member of the family who has the permission of the husband or father to be an escort for his wife or daughter. The authorities may apply this law to women traveling on foreign passports. Otherwise, when in Iraq, a woman married to an Iraqi and traveling on her foreign passport may be required to produce evidence of her husband's permission to leave the country.

For information on international adoption of children, international parental child abduction, and international child support enforcement issues, please refer to our Internet site at's_issues.html or telephone 202-736-7000.

Without the requisite validation, use of a U.S. passport for travel to, in or through Iraq may constitute a violation of 18 U.S.C. 1544, and may be punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment. An exemption to the above restriction is granted to Americans residing in Iraq as of February 8, 1991 who continue to reside there and to American professional reporters or journalists on assignment there.

The categories of individuals eligible for consideration for a special passport validation are set forth in 22 C.F.R. 51.74. Passport validation requests for Iraq should be forwarded in writing to the following address:

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Passport Services
Office of Passport Policy and Advisory Services
U.S. Department of State
2401 E Street, N.W., 9th Floor
Washington, D.C. 20522
Telephone 202-663-2662, Fax 202-663-2654.

The request must be accompanied by supporting documentation according to the category under which validation is sought. Currently, the four categories of persons specified in 22 C.F.R. 51.74 as being eligible for consideration for passport validation are as follows:

[a] Professional Reporters: Includes full-time members of the reporting or writing staff of a newspaper, magazine or broadcasting network whose purpose for travel is to gather information about Iraq for dissemination to the general public. Professional reporters or journalists on assignment are specifically exempted from the passport restriction for Iraq and need not apply for a passport validation.

[b] American Red Cross: Applicant establishes that he or she is a representative of the American Red Cross or International Red Cross traveling pursuant to an officially-sponsored Red Cross mission.

[c] Humanitarian Considerations: Applicant must establish that his or her trip is justified by compelling humanitarian considerations or for family unification. At this time, "compelling humanitarian considerations" include situations where the applicant can document that an immediate family member is critically ill in Iraq. Documentation concerning family illness must include the name and address of the relative, and be from that relative's physician attesting to the nature and gravity of the illness. "Family unification" situations may include cases in which spouses or minor children are residing in Iraq, and dependent on, an Iraqi national spouse or parent for their support.

[d] National Interest: The applicant's request is otherwise found to be in the national interest.

In all requests for passport validation for travel to Iraq, the name, date and place of birth for all concerned persons must be given, as well as the U.S. passport numbers. Documentation as outlined above should accompany all requests. Additional information may be obtained by writing to the above address or by calling the Office of Passport Policy and Advisory Services at 202-955-0231 or 955-0232.

U.S. GOVERNMENT ECONOMIC SANCTIONS: In addition to the restrictions on the use of a U.S. passport discussed above, all U.S. persons (defined as "U.S. citizens, permanent resident aliens of the United States, anyone physically located in the United States, and any entity organized under the laws of the United States") are subject to the Iraq Sanctions Regulations administered by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). For up to date information about the embargo on Iraq, consult OFAC's home page on the Internet at or via OFAC's Info-by-Fax service at 202-622-0077.

In August 1990 former President Bush issued Executive Orders 12722 and 12724, imposing economic sanctions against Iraq including a complete trade embargo. OFAC administers the regulations related to these sanctions, which include restrictions on all financial transactions related to travel to Iraq. These regulations prohibit all travel-related transactions, except as specifically licensed. The only exceptions to this licensing requirement are for persons engaged in journalism or in official U.S. government or U.N. business.

Sanctions regulations prohibit all U.S. persons from engaging in unauthorized travel-related transactions to or within Iraq. Please note, however, that transactions relating to travel for journalistic activity by persons regularly employed in such capacity by a newsgathering organization are exempt from the prohibition. Please note as well that U.S. persons may engage in travel-related transactions for the sole purpose of visiting immediate family members in Iraq, provided that the U.S. persons seeking travel obtain a license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control. The only exceptions to this licensing requirement are for journalistic activity or for U.S. government or United Nations business.

Questions concerning these restrictions should be addressed directly to:

Licensing Division
Office of Foreign Assets Control
U.S. Department of the Treasury
Washington, D.C. 20220
Telephone: 202-622-2480; Fax: 202-622-1657

UN sanctions prohibit all air traffic in and out of Iraq. As there is no direct service, or economic authority to operate such service, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Iraq’s civil aviation authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Iraq’s air carrier operations. For further information, travelers may contact the U.S. Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA Internet home page at

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