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Iraq - A Tourist Destination?

Recently the Kurdish region of Iraq launched an international advertising campaign called "The Other Iraq." The campaign tries to separate the relatively safe northern Kurdistan from other parts of Iraq where sectarian violence is a daily occurrence. The ads were developed to generate both business investment and tourism. VOA's Brian Padden reports the Kurdish region has real tourism potential.

A promotional advertisement from the Kurdistan Development Corporation recently ran on U.S. television. Its message is simple -- Northern Iraq is a safe and a beautiful place to visit.

While westerners may not be vacationing in Kurdistan just yet, Iraqis are. At the Gali Ali Beg, Iraqis, such as Dahud Lukman, come from all over the country to enjoy the cool waters and the sense of security.

“I like this place,” he says. “It's very nice. And the tense situation back home also helped us decide to come here.”

Kurdistan is, for the most part, a safe haven from the violence in southern Iraq. It is a land of beautiful mountains and rivers, full of natural waterfalls that appeal to young and old alike. Since the fall of Saddam Hussein this region is being rediscovered and is currently enjoying a boom in tourism.

Mahadi Ramadan owns a campground near a place called Miracle Spring. He says people come for the water but stay for the safety. “Since last year many more people have come here and they stay for a long time. They like this safe environment.”

For now most of the tourist sites cater to local, mostly low-income visitors. Development of modern tourist attractions, like an amusement ride, has been slow. Douglas Leyton is director of the Kurdistan Development Corporation. He is confident that with some time and investment, Kurdistan will become a major international tourist destination.

“We have the capability here eventually to develop resort areas where there is snow skiing, for example. Now that doesn't happen to exist in most of the Middle East. Water rafting. All kinds of water sports. This is the land of water,” says Leyton.

And with peace and development, Leyton says this could also be the land of opportunity.