Iraqi Kurdistan, Kurdistan travel, iraq travel, middle east travel,
Libertine Gardens
Yahya Ahmed/AP Photo
Visitors crowd the paths in Liberation Gardens in Sulaimaniyah in the Kurdistan region of Iraq
Friday, Aug. 22, 2008.

Arrest of American Hikers in Iran Raises Concerns

August 05, 2009 02:00 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
Three American journalists hiking in Iraqi Kurdistan were taken into custody by Iranian authorities. Their release—and tourism in the region—are now in question.

Hikers Were Experienced Travelers

Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Joshua Fattal were arrested by Iranian authorities for illegally entering the country and could be accused of spying. The U.S. Department of State denies the allegations. According to the Associated Press, relatives of the travelers and Kurdish officials say the trio got lost while hiking in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan and accidentally crossed into Iran.

While Saddam Hussein was in power, travel was not an option for most Iraqi citizens, but Kurdistan has now become "a relatively inexpensive getaway," according to AP, and is often visited by Westerners and Iraqis. But this latest incident could put a dent in the burgeoning tourism industry in Iraqi Kurdistan.

NPR reports that the three hikers were all "freelance journalists" who had graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, and had "considerable experience traveling and reporting from abroad." Bauer, 27, had been living in the Middle East with Shourd, 30, for approximately one year, and both had found work as freelance writers for various U.S. media outlets.

According to NPR, the group was last seen near Dokan Resort, located northeast of Baghdad. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has sought information about the three Americans and requested their quick release from the Iranian government.

Background: Travel in Iraqi Kurdistan

The blog Backpacking Iraqi Kurdistan has information on getting into the territory from different countries, including Turkey and Syria, as well as from Iraq. The blog also has maps of city centers in Iraqi Kurdistan, information about traveling between cities and hotel tips.

Related Topic: Tourism in Afghanistan's Bamiyan valley

Like Iraq, war-torn Afghanistan is struggling to revive its tourism sector.

Casting aside concerns over vicious fighting in the south, eager tour guides and restaurant owners are focused on hospitality in the center of the Bamiyan valley of Afghanistan. Their efforts could entice tourists seeking adventure and history, and may help normalize life there.

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