Western tourists glimpse antiquity in Iraq

Fri Mar 20, 2009 8:53pm EDT
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By Tim Cocks

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Bridget Jones, 77, stares up at the ceiling of her Baghdad hotel and thinks carefully for a moment when asked whether she'll recommend Iraq to her friends.

"It depends on the friends. It wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea," the retired British archeologist said after a two-week group tour of Iraq, the first Western group since mid-2003.

"For starters, their's no coffee, there's no alcohol, if you're a woman you've got to wear a headscarf, and the plumbing isn't brilliant," she said, not even mentioning the risk of being kidnapped by militants or blown up by a roadside bomb.

Jones, from north London, is one of eight Western holidaymakers -- five Britons, two Americans and a Canadian -- who arrived in Iraq on March 8 and have since toured many of Iraq's major historic sites, including the Biblical city of Babylon, fabled home to the Hanging Gardens.

Iraqi tourism officials hope their visit will herald a new era of antiquities tourism in a country known as the cradle of civilization and which gave birth to such milestones of development as writing, codified law, the wheel and agriculture.

"I've always wanted to see Iraq, because it's where everything started -- the Land of the Two Rivers," Jones said, referring to the Tigris and Euphrates, whose floodwaters enabled some of the world's earliest farming and led the Greeks to coin the name "Mesopotamia" for the land in between them.

Jones used to work for the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments and has long had a passion ancient history.

But was she not worried about security in Iraq?   Continued...

<p>An Iraqi soldier stands guard near a statue of the Lion of Babylon, 135 km (85 miles) south of Baghdad, January 13, 2009. REUTERS/Atef Hassan</p>