Why would one travel to Iraq? Maybe for its archaeology, adventure or AK-47s? Perhaps, but to me personally Iraq appeals greatly for a spiritual purpose.
Millions of Shia Muslims from around the globe head for the impressive shrine of the third Shia Imam, Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, on various occasions every year. The security situation inside Iraq has generally improved over the past year, but pilgrims still risk being attacked by al-Qaeda-linked extremists on their way to Karbala.
Najaf, which is located 160km south of Baghdad, is one of the holiest cities in Shia Islam, housing the Al Haidariya shrine of Imam Ali, the first Imam of the Shias.
Being the capital of the country, Baghdad is filled with activity, especially the bustling bazaars that were no-go areas for a long time. Sindbad the sailor took off for his adventure from Basra says the legend, and it was once called the Venice of the East, due to its canals lining the dainty 19th century houses.
Lastly, a visit to Samarra, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its well-preserved ruins and history, sums up why Mesopotamia was called the “cradle of civilization”.
Raziqueh Hussain is a journalist who has won the Dubai Shopping Festival Award 2012 as well as the Global Village Award 2012. She was also short-listed for the Kurt Schork Awards in International Journalism in 2009 for her series on Iraq. She is a regular contributor to Your Middle East and most recently wrote Desserts from the desert.