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IRAQ: Honeymoon in Baghdad?

September 21, 2008 |  9:43 am

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Coming soon: a romantic island getaway in the heart of Baghdad! That's the hope, at least, of Iraq's Tourism Board, which held a news conference Sunday to announce an ambitious project to lure investors to build up the capital's Jazirat Al A'ras, a slab of land surrounded by water from the Tigris River.

Before a sometimes skeptical crowd of mainly Iraqi journalists, the head of the tourism board, Hamood Yakoubi, said the resort, whose name translates to Wedding Island, would be modeled on the "One Thousand and One Nights" tales. Not that King Shahryar, Scheherezade, Sinbad or Alladin had Ferris wheels, fast-food restaurants or a water park to entertain them. But Yakoubi and Ahmed Ridha, the chairman of the government's National Investment Commission, said the point was to give visitors a feel for ancient Baghdad while providing five-star service and amenities.

Those amenities would include some things not currently seen in Baghdad, such as special villas for handicapped visitors, an 18-hole golf course and a multi-level shopping mall.

Iraq's geographical diversity makes it a natural draw for tourists, said Yakoubi, citing its deserts, mountains, rivers and marshland. These, combined with its archaelogical sites and religious shrines, have the potential to bring in millions of tourist dollars. Ahmed said that, in fact, if handled correctly, the tourism industry could overtake oil as Iraq's No. 1 money-maker.

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In addition to the Baghdad spot, on government-owned land, Iraqi officials also are eyeing the Tourist Village at Lake Habbaniya, in Anbar province, as a potential source of big income.

But tourism is starting from zero here, due to a war that led to massive looting, violence,and the placement of foreign troops in attractions such as the ancient city of Babylon. Yakoubi said the Baghdad island project is expected be complete in five years. That's assuming things remain relatively calm.

No matter how you square it, Iraq remains a very dangerous place, and that will have to change before foreigners looking for peace and quiet come here. Sunday was a quiet day, by Baghdad standards, but here are some of the things police reported:

  • Armed men using silencers assassinated a Ministry of Interior official in western Baghdad as he headed to work, also killing his driver;
  • Armed men using silencers attempted to kill a police major;
  • A Finance Ministry official was seriously wounded when a bomb attached to his personal car exploded;
  • A bomb planted outside the Turkish Embassy in northern Baghdad injured five civilians and two Iraqi soldiers;
  • Another bomb in northern Baghdad targeted an Iraqi police convoy, injuring one policeman and four civilians;
  • A bomb exploded outside the offices of a newspaper run by Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's Dawa Party in eastern Baghdad, injuring two passers-by;
  • A bomb attached to the bottom of a businessman's car in eastern Baghdad injured three people, including the businessman;
  • In northern Iraq, two people were killed and 23 injured, most of them police recruits, when a suicide bomber detonated himself at a checkpoint outside a police academy in Kirkuk;
  • And in Diyala province, three people died and six were injured when a bomb detonated in a minibus taxi.

— Tina Susman, in Baghdad

Top photo: A carousel has fallen into disuse at the Habbaniya Tourist Village west of Baghdad; Iraqis hope to return the village to its pre-war splendor. Credit: U.S. Marine Cpl. Jason W. Fudge. Lower photo: A Marine looks out at Lake Habbaniya from a balcony of the former hotel at the Tourist Village. Credit: U.S. Marine Cpl. Benjamin Eberle

P.S. The Los Angeles Times issues a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East, as well as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can subscribe by logging in at the website here, clicking on the box for "L.A. Times updates," and then clicking on the "World: Mideast" box.

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