Startled Iraqis welcome,sort of, their first tourist - Mercedes-Benz Forum

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post #1 of 13 (permalink) Old 02-07-2009, 02:18 PM Thread Starter
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Startled Iraqis welcome,sort of, their first tourist

International Herald Tribune
Startled Iraqis welcome,sort of, their first tourist
By Stephen Farrell and Alissa J. Rubin
Friday, February 6, 2009

BAGHDAD: "I am a tourist" were his first words. The telephone line from Falluja was bad, but there could be no mistake. Possibly Iraq's, and certainly Falluja's, first Western leisure visitor was in town.

Not for long though. A guard at a checkpoint caught sight of Luca Marchio among the Iraqi passengers on a bus that was heading from Baghdad to the once-notorious - and still tense - western city and alerted his superiors.

Marchio, 33, a native of Como, Italy, soon found himself in the Falluja police headquarters surrounded by bewildered officers trying to make out why a Westerner would wander around their city without a translator or guards. Marchio may have worried the police, but his main concern was saving money.

In two telephone conversations with journalists, he brushed away concerns for his safety and offers of help. "I am a tourist," he said. "I want to see the most important cities in the country. That is the reason why I am here now.

"I want to see and understand the reality, because I have never been here before and I think every country in the world must be seen. I was looking for cheap accommodation here in Falluja, but the authorities explained to me that it was impossible because there are not any hotels here. They suggested a short tour and then go back to Baghdad."

Piecing together his unusual travel itinerary from an unperturbed Marchio, and incredulous Iraqi and Italian officials - and viewing a copy of his passport and visa from the Coral Palace Hotel in Baghdad - tells a strange story.

After being made aware of his presence in the country by The New York Times, the Italian Embassy in Baghdad established that Marchio had traveled overland from Italy to Egypt to Turkey and then into northern Iraq. A photocopy of his passport shows that he obtained a 10-day visa and crossed the border from Turkey to the Kurdish region of Iraq.

Then came a 320 kilometer, or 200-mile, journey by taxi from Erbil, the Kurdistan regional capital, to Baghdad, where a startled Bashar Yacoub, 31, reception manager at the Coral Palace, which had not seen a casual Western visitor since the U.S. invasion in 2003, recorded his details.

A good bureaucrat, Yacoub checked Marchio's documents and despite his qualms about hosting a foreigner found his papers in order and gave him a room key. "He told us he just wanted to see Baghdad," Yacoub said.

Asked whether he thought Iraq was ready for tourists, Yacoub said no. Asked whether he believed Falluja, Marchio's next destination, was safe for tourists, his emphatic no was echoed by staff and guests standing within earshot.

But there was no stopping Marchio. For an extra fee of $40 the hotel agreed to give him a tour of parts of Baghdad, driving along the riverfront to photograph a statue of Sheherazade, the narrator of "A Thousand and One Nights," and children playing in a riverside garden. He proceeded to the artificial lake near Baghdad University and on to the square named after Baghdad's founder, Abu Jaafar al-Mansour, on the west bank of the Tigris. He went to Zahra Park, a popular family spot with a small zoo and carnival rides. He finished his day in the affluent but bomb-scarred shopping district of Karrada, where his guide for the day, Ramez Fa'eq, 23, said, "When it became dark, he got afraid and wanted to return home to the hotel."

The next morning he set out for Falluja despite the efforts of the hotel staff to dissuade him, insisting on taking a public bus to the city 65 kilometers away.

Within hours, the hotel received a call from the Falluja police.

"I wasn't surprised when they called," Yacoub said. "The police found him in a mini-bus next to the woman who sells fresh milk, yogurt and cream door-to-door. They were very worried about him."

For the eager Marchio, that was the end of his bello viaggio in Iraq.

The police summoned local journalists to tell them of the wandering Italian, U.S. marines were pulled in and the Italian Embassy was notified.

The police quickly concluded that he was not an Italian jihadi and was a risk to no one but himself.

A U.S. marine working with the police suggested taking him to the city limits and dropping him where Falluja meets the main highway.

"I explained to him that it was not safe to move around," said Rinato Di Porcia, the deputy chief of mission at the Italian Embassy in Baghdad. "He is a little bit naïve."

On Friday night, he was being held for his own safety, the Iraqi police said.

"He will leave with the earliest flight tomorrow morning," Di Porcia said.

When will Iraq be safe for tourists? The Coral Palace's reception manager considered the question. He pointed out that there were Shiite religious tourists in Najaf and Karbala. "But the general tourists, no," he said. "I can't guess when, because now the security situation is good. But you know this country. You can expect anything any minute."

De Porcia said that the Italian Foreign Ministry's official advice was, Do not visit Iraq. If you must, he continued, "have a security framework."

Reporting was contributed by Mohammed Hussain from Baghdad and an Iraqi employee of The New York Times from Falluja.
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post #2 of 13 (permalink) Old 02-07-2009, 02:32 PM
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When is Jayhawk taking a back pack and enjoy Iraq too?
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post #3 of 13 (permalink) Old 02-07-2009, 02:37 PM
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Could we arrange a group rate for.....
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post #4 of 13 (permalink) Old 02-07-2009, 02:59 PM
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Make sure you outfit him with a cowboy hat
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post #5 of 13 (permalink) Old 02-07-2009, 04:33 PM
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Make sure you outfit him with a cowboy hat
lol.. and a gw t-shirt.



in political asylum
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post #6 of 13 (permalink) Old 02-07-2009, 04:35 PM
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Yep, with a I love Halliburton or Blackwater pin
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post #7 of 13 (permalink) Old 02-07-2009, 04:44 PM
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ooh, that'd be a nice touch.



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post #8 of 13 (permalink) Old 02-07-2009, 04:59 PM Thread Starter
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You guys are a mean spirited bunch.
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post #9 of 13 (permalink) Old 02-07-2009, 05:00 PM
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You guys are a mean spirited bunch.
you don't say
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post #10 of 13 (permalink) Old 02-07-2009, 05:01 PM
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It's just battle fatigue..

I bet the Iraqis have some of that too.
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