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Kurdistan Region of Northern Iraq
Kurdistan markets itself as "The Other Iraq" to businesses and tourists, and right now, antiquities-obsessed travelers are following hot trails to the region's numerous important archaeological sites. Highlights include Neanderthal graves in Shanidar Cave near the Great Zab River; the 7,000-year-old Neolithic village of Jarno; Assyrian bull reliefs carved into the Bavian Gorge; St. Matthew's Monastery on Mount Macqloub; and holy places of the Yezidi, an ancient Kurdish sect blending elements of Christianity, Islam, and Indo-Iranian religions.
Know the backstory:
The Kurdish region of Iraq has remained peaceful amid the current unrest elsewhere in Iraq and the Middle East, in part because the region was declared a self-ruled "federal entity" under the 2005 Iraqi constitution. Kurdistan was spared the brunt of the 2003 U.S. invasion and the ShiaSunni violence of the south, but the region suffered greatly during the IranIraq War in the 1980s, when Saddam Hussein's forces used chemical weapons on the Kurdish people, destroyed 2,000 villages, and killed nearly 60,000 people.
The Maryland-size region is easily accessible by air from Dubai, but a fully developed modern infrastructurenotably, international ATMs and sufficient public restroomsis still in the works. Tourist visas for 10-day stays are issued at the Turkish border and Erbil International Airport. Opened in January 2011 in the ancient city of Erbil, the Erbil Rotana, Kurdistan's first five-star hotel, has reliable Internet, a heated outdoor pool, five restaurants, and a spa. Two more luxury hotels, the Divan Erbil and Le Royal Park, are due to open in the Kurdish capital by the end of 2011.