Iraq premiere at world's biggest tourism fair

The world's biggest tourism fair, the ITB Berlin, opened Wednesday with an Iraqi stand for the first time, eight years after the toppling of Saddam Hussein and the turmoil that followed.

"This is the first participation in Iraq's history," Fadhil Al-Saaehg, chief executive of Najaf-based tourism firm Al-Rafidain, told AFP. "This is an ideal chance for Iraq to start interacting with the rest of the world."

He added: "Iraq has come out not just of one war but out of many wars and political unrest dating back 30 or 40 years. So right now is the time that everything is starting to fall into place."

The company offers a 13-day tour taking in the site of the ancient city of Babylon, parts of Kurdistan in the north, Mosul, the former Parthian stronghold and UNESCO world heritage site of Hatra, as well as Baghdad.

"Almost every city has a historical background dating back thousands of years," he said, noting: "Iraqi civilisation is over 7,000 years old. We have 18,000 archaelogical sites."

And he says that visitors do not have to worry about security or comfort. The country already boasts several five-star hotels, and more are planned.

"Right now the hotels in Baghdad are not what Western tourists might be used to, but we are working on them," Al-Saaehg said.

Already the country receives around 5,000 tourists every day, around 10 percent of whom are from Europe, North America and Australasia, he said.

His company's first participation at an international trade fair was at London's World Travel Market (WTM) in late 2010. It also plans appearances in Paris, Moscow, Italy, Spain and Dubai.

The ITB in the German capital, open to trade visitors from Wednesday and the public from Saturday, includes more than 10,000 exhibitors from 180 countries and hopes to attract 180,000 visitors by the time it closes on Sunday.

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