The Minister of Tourism, Liwaa Sumaisem, has announced plans to develop Iraq’s tourism sector – currently dominated by religious tourism - to include archeological and eco-tourism.
He told AKnews that a law will soon be passed empowering the ministry to develop the nature reserves and visitor centers at the country’s archeological sites.
The holy cities of Karbala and Najaf currently attract millions of Shia pilgrims to Iraq each year to participate in a calendar of religious celebrations. Sumaisem believes that Iraq could be attracting millions more to its variety of natural environments and ancient monuments.
“Tourism should not be confined to religion only,” he said, “…it should also include archaeological and environmental tourism…these aspects are now included within the plans of the Ministry.”
Sumaisem said that religious tourism currently constitutes 90% of the sector, a figure he would like to see decrease significantly.
Ongoing efforts to restore the marshlands in southern Iraq (pictured) – a unique natural environment destroyed under the leadership of Saddam Hussein at the end of the last century – would provide the ministry with its first nature reserve and attract eco-visitors from around the world, Sumeisem believes.
Widely considered to have been the cradle of civilization, from the Babylonians to the Abbasside Caliphate, Iraq’s vast wealth of historic monuments and archeological sites could, the minister said, also make an important contribution to the development of the tourism sector.
“There are 60,000 archaeological sites in Iraq that are not currently considered to be centers of tourism,” he said, “but hundreds of them could constitute popular tourist destinations.”
Sumeisem said that the ministry currently needs media coverage and exhibition space in international events to get the ball rolling on projects to revive a once booming sector.