The last group of Westerners to arrive in Baghdad rode tanks and carried guns. Six years ago, US-led forces invaded Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein, an event which sparked years of inter-ethnic hatred. Now though, officially-sanctioned package tourists are back.
“I think Iraq is safe for tourists, but I think that maybe a few more of the sites need to be opened up for tourists to see, because if tourists are going to come to Iraq there have to be things for them to see when they get here,” said English tourist Tina Townsend Greaves. The tourists include Britons and Americans, and their very presence proves how much the security situation has improved. A new monument, known as the Statue of Liberty, stands on the spot where a giant likeness of Saddam was memorably torn down six years ago. Years of fighting and bloodshed seemed to have left Iraq on the brink of failure. Critics of the invasion had said winning the war would be easy, but winning the peace would be much more difficult. However violence has fallen dramatically, and Iraq already attracts thousands of religious visitors to its famous Shi’ite shrines at Najaf and Kerbala. The tourists said they had enjoyed their trip, but clashes with security forces outside Baghdad, which killed ten suspected al-Qaeda militants, were a reminder that the danger is still there.