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Camping in the dunes



Desert escapades in a safer Iraq

Through social media and a period of relative stability, Iraq has become a popular destination for those seeking adventure and tranquillity

Far from the hustle and bustle of major cities, young Iraqis are increasingly taking advantage of a renewed sense of safety to explore the country’s desert getaways.

Sheltering amid the golden dunes, Ghadanfar Abdallah and his friends gather around a flickering campfire in the Samawah desert south of the capital, humming tunes, laughing and eating.

“When we post pictures, people do not believe that there are such places like the dunes in Iraq,” the 35-year-old oil sector worker said.

“My friends ask me if the pictures were taken in Dubai. They are shocked when they learn that they were, in fact, in Iraq.

For years, only the most in trepid of hikers and campers would brave the trips into Iraq’s desert. But with the rise of social media and a period of relative stability, it has become a popular destination for those seeking not only adventure and off-roading but also tranquillity in the vast, barren landscape.

“It is something I loved since I was a little boy. But I only started doing it with friends in the winter of 2018 or 2019,” Abdallah said. He crossed 200km from his southern city of Basra to reach an area untouched by the trapping of urban life, including phone networks.

On a crisp winter weekend, around 20 campers set up their tents amid the serene dunes. The air filled with the aroma of carp grilling over a smoky wood f ire, as the hikers prepared to feast on Iraq’s national dish, masgouf.

Later, some played dominoes while others bickered over heated games of backgammon, sipping hot cups of tea and smoking hookahs (water pipe).

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Safer Iraq

Their voices resonated with traditional Iraqi songs, their laughter piercing the still desert night. Abdallah said such desert expeditions have “become more widespread, and today many stores sell camping gear.”

“Some are starting to realise that it is safe, it is an adventure.” But for many, the lingering sense of danger remains.

Iraq has been ravaged by successive years of conflict since the 2003 US-led invasion, including most recently the fight against the Islamic State group.

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