A group of eight Westerners is getting ready to leave Iraq. Unlike
most Westerners in Iraq these days, they are not affiliated with a
government or a foreign military.
These eight men and women from the United States and Britain are tourists - part of the first officially sanctioned tour of Iraq since 2003.
British-based adventure travel company Hinterland Travel organized the two-week excursion that took the tourists to Baghdad, the ancient ruins of Babylon and Ur, as well as the golden domed al-Askariya shrine in the northern town of Samarra.
Militants bombed the shrine, one of the holiest sites of Shi'ite Islam, in 2006 touching off months of sectarian violence.
The tourists say while there were plenty of hassles and they were not able to see all the sites on their itinerary, they enjoyed the trip.
The tourists say they also made a trip to the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in the north, though they were not able to visit Iraq's rebuilt National Museum.
Hinterland Managing Director Geoff Hann worked with the Iraqi government to arrange the two-week trip, and says he is already lining up groups for future tours of the country.