is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office
at the U.S. Consulate General in Erbil. OSAC encourages travelers to use
this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in the Iraqi
Kurdistan Region. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Iraq country page for
original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of
which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC
current U.S. Department of State Travel
Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Iraq at Level 4,
indicating travelers should not travel to the country due to terrorism and
armed conflict. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding
the Consular Travel Advisory System.
Overall Crime and
Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR) enjoys a strong relationship with the U.S. Despite
internal political divisions, the recent incursion by Turkey into northern
Syria, political instability in Baghdad and areas of southern Iraq, and the ongoing
ISIS threat, the IKR remains relatively secure.
2017, after the IKR’s independence referendum led to a rise in tensions with
the Government of Iraq (GOI), Iraqi forces reasserted control over Kirkuk, a
disputed city and province that had come under IKR control in 2014 during the
campaign against ISIS. The Kurdish defensive line has been static since then, but
ISIS takes advantage of the 20km standoff between Iraqi forces and Iraqi
Kurdistan’s armed forces (Peshmerga) to
operate. Additionally, when Iraqi Army units reclaimed Mosul in Ninewa Province
during the anti-ISIS campaign, they were accompanied by predominantly Shi’a
Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) along the Kurdish defensive line, placing
them in conflict with Peshmerga units. PMF units currently active in areas from
Kirkuk to Mosul have been known to extort the local population, and some PMF
groups and members harbor anti-U.S. sentiment.
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Erbil as being a LOW-threat location for crime directed
at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Crime statistics and/or
crime reporting mechanisms in the IKR are unreliable relative to U.S. crime-data
collection methods. The IKR is emerging from an economic downturn and fiscal crisis
that officials claimed had resulted in a moderate increase in crime.
Informally, IKR officials have commented that property thefts and thefts from
residences had risen in the past several years. To date, most crime is
nonviolent, and criminals generally do not target Westerners and diplomats. Kurdish
police and security services are out in adequate numbers, and visitors can move
around urban areas in relative safety. Review OSAC’s report, All That You Should
Consulate personnel must travel with a Protective Security Detail (PSD) due to
terrorism threats, potential criminal actions against Consulate personnel are
required to live or travel in Iraq should use an in-country security advisor or
some type of PSD support to limit potential terrorist and criminal threats. Travelers
to the IKR should consider using all available security assets to minimize any
potential terrorist or criminal risks to include protective security or a local
driver who knows routes, speaks the local language, and knows which areas may
present a higher degree of risk. While traveling in the IKR, interpreters can
answer basic questions, explain the purpose of your travel, and negotiate with
Kurdish security at checkpoints. Avoid traveling alone. PSD personnel can render
assistance in the event of an emergency and call for additional police and
security support. All travelers should carry a cell phone that has both calling
and texting capability.
No specific, ongoing cyber security threat exists in the region.
However, terrorist groups and criminals have used the latest technology, social
media, and the internet to recruit and further their cause. When managing
personal accounts online, take routine precautions to prevent malware, spyware,
malicious code, and phishing schemes from harming your computer or business
growth of internet use has raised concerns about privacy. Individuals visiting
or working in Iraq should be careful with the information they share online, to
include posting strongly worded or divisive comments critical of any political
party or agency in the IKR.
Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics,
Best Practices for
Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile
Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite Phones:
Critical or Contraband?
Road Safety and Road Conditions
conditions throughout Iraq are reasonably good, and roads are generally well
constructed. Urban and interstate roads are usually asphalt, while rural roads
are typically hard-packed dirt/gravel. Most roads do not have an adequate
shoulder for emergency stops. Most roads outside of urban centers are one lane
in each direction. Vehicle security checkpoints and dense urban populations
often result in significant traffic congestion. Drivers do not typically
exhibit U.S. standard road etiquette or adhere to traffic laws/road markings.
Expatriates and visitors who decide to drive should do so defensively. Drivers
in the IKR can be aggressive and will routinely exceed posted speed limits,
tailgate, and attempt reckless lane changes and passing. When on long trips, carry
water, a medical kit, appropriate seasonal clothing, and adequate cash in the
event you have an accident requiring vehicle repair or urgent medical care. Record-heavy
rainfall in November and December 2018 damaged secondary roads and bridges.
up-to-date maps, use a GPS navigation device, and call in-country contacts to
give status checks (waypoints) while in transit. These periodic updates will
assist in the event of a road mishap or a delayed arrival. Driving a
serviceable vehicle reduces the possibility of a breakdown and subsequent
hazards associated with isolation on the road overnight. Know the locations of
Kurdish defensive lines, recently liberated areas, and disputed internal
boundaries. Border areas between neighboring countries can be dangerous and
often not clearly defined. Use established border crossings. Review
OSAC’s reports, Road
Safety Abroad, Driving
Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive
Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving
and road safety abroad.
improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are not common in the Kurdistan region, but
smaller handheld explosives and unexploded ordnance (UXO) are present,
especially in areas previously under ISIS control. Avoid unstable structures
heavily damaged from ground fighting and airstrikes. Consulate personnel only
travel using PSDs and in armored vehicles. Armored vehicles and local security
teams are available in the IKR for hire on short and long-term contracts.
Public Transportation Conditions
maintained city vehicles are frequently involved in accidents or breakdowns. Though
city buses run regularly, their routes and stops change frequently and without
notice. Long-distance buses are in poor condition, and often drive at speeds
unsafe for road conditions. Train and passenger rail infrastructure remain
are plentiful and clearly marked, but it is best to call a reputable taxi
company or private car service ahead of time from an apartment or a hotel front
desk, rather than hailing a taxi from the street. Review OSAC’s report, Security
In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.
Airports in the IKR are
clean, functional, secure and well maintained. The local
security force (Asayish) controls the
outer perimeter, gates, and access points around the airports. Airport
screening of arriving vehicles, passengers, luggage, cargo, and identity
documents is thorough. Modern security equipment and passenger screening
protocols are in place. A 2018 Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
report found physical, procedural, and technical security procedures at Erbil
International Airport (EBL) to be on par with other international airports
2017, the FAA issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM)
amending its prohibition on U.S. civil aviation operations in the Baghdad FIR
(ORBB) to allow overflights at or above FL 260. The coalition of Iraqi security
forces, allied nations, and supporting militia elements has successfully
reduced the area under ISIS control. In addition, the operational
anti-aircraft-capable weapons possessed by ISIS or other anti-U.S.
extremist/militant elements are altitude-limited and would not pose a risk to
U.S. civil aviation overflights at or above FL 260, provided that the flights
remain clear of areas where fighting is likely to occur or re-emerge.
permission from the Iraqi government, the Turkish Air Force regularly carries
out air strikes against members of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) in border
regions between Iraqi Kurdistan, Turkey, and Iran. The air strikes are an
effort to weaken the PKK, which the international community considers a
terrorist organization. Foreign carriers closely monitor the security situation
in Erbil and are willing to suspend service with little or no notice if they
perceive a risk to their aircraft.
U.S. Department of State has assessed Erbil as being a CRITICAL-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting
official U.S. government interests. Although
ISIS no longer holds physical territory, the group has shown resilience.
Remaining ISIS elements have transitioned
to recruitment, fundraising, and insurgency operations. ISIS maintains
lethal capabilities and presents a serious threat almost anywhere along the 700-mile-long
Peshmerga and Iraqi Army defensive line. Throughout Ninewa and Kirkuk provinces,
ISIS frequently conducts asymmetric
attacks, to include the use of vehicle-borne IEDs (VBIEDs), ambushes, small
unit infantry-style assaults, and assassinations. Terrorists often target Iraqi
and Western civilians, Iraqi security forces, Kurdistan regional security
forces, the Government of Iraq, and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
Although on the defensive, ISIS remains capable and
extremely dangerous. Recent reporting indicates that ISIS maintains sleeper
cells in the western portion of Mosul. ISIS remnants constitute a threat to
Westerners operating in Diyala, Kirkuk, or traversing Mosul and traveling west
toward Tal Afar and Sinjar.
air strikes continue against PKK elements in the northern IKR. PKK-affiliated
groups maintain a presence in the Sinjar region, creating a destabilizing
effect and increasing the risk of armed conflict.
KRG devotes considerable resources to protect its key government buildings,
vital infrastructure, the diplomatic community, and soft targets such as
hotels, churches, mosques, and shopping areas. Insurgents continue to conduct
effective small- and large-scale attacks throughout Iraq that cause casualties,
hinder the freedom of movement for citizens, and influence public opinion.
Kurds generally have a
favorable view of the U.S. citizens and other Westerners, despite protests and
social media expressing anger with U.S. foreign policy. The KRG prioritizes the
safety of U.S. citizens and other Westerners.
and serious security incidents have occurred in the southern Iraqi provinces of
Anbar, Baghdad, Salahaddin, and Ninewa on a far more frequent basis than in the
IKR. However, the threat of attacks in the IKR remains a concern. The heavy
presence of the Peshmerga on Kurdish defensive lines has been a stabilizing
force, especially when working in tandem with Coalition air power and U.S.
advise/assist efforts. This combination has undoubtedly prevented significant
acts of terrorism in Erbil and other major urbans areas in the IKR. In 2019,
there were no serious attacks against U.S. citizens or other Westerners in the
Religious, and Ethnic Violence
U.S. Department of State has assessed Erbil as being a CRITICAL-threat location for political violence directed at or
affecting official U.S. government interests.
last significant protests occurred in Erbil and Sulaymaniyah in late 2017 and
early 2018 after the KRG cut public sector salaries. Protests are typically
peaceful, require a permit, and feature heavy Kurdish police and security
service monitoring. Demonstrations have been a consequence of the fallout of
the referendum vote and perceived lack of support from the international
ISIS denied religious
freedom and persecuted minority groups across the territory it held. The KRG
has sought to reduce inter-religious tensions and control clashes between
ethnic groups. The possibility of attacks and incidents rises around religious
and civic holidays and dates of historical significance. While the IKR hosts
nearly one million Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs)
within its governorates, along with additional IDPs in the KRG-controlled
portions of Ninewa, the provinces of Erbil, Duhok, and Sulaimaniya have not
experienced serious religious or ethnic strife. In general, Iraqi Kurds are tolerant,
accepting, and generous to all groups persecuted and displaced by ISIS.
and the Kurdish environment can be harsh. Temperatures can fall below 30°F in
the winter and often exceed 110°F during the summer. Dust storms, which can
reduce visibility and impede aircraft, occur frequently during the spring.
Heavy fog, often lasting for hours, is common during the winter. Winter snow
typically falls in areas of higher elevation, closing roads until warmer
temperatures return. By U.S. or Western standards, the IKR lacks road treatment
and clearing equipment sufficient to mitigate hazards associated with snow and
ice on roadways. This is especially true outside major urban centers.
Critical Infrastructure Concerns
against ISIS has taken a toll on Iraq’s critical infrastructure, including the
nation’s oil reserves and industrial infrastructure, refineries, power plants,
and, most recently, the hydraulic power system. Power failures occur frequently,
and almost all homes and businesses rely on backup generators. Power outages
increase during the summer months.
Iraq continues to suffer from
serious deficiencies in public services. Electricity often fails. Iraqi fire
and rescue services are still developing, and hotels may not have fire safety
equipment. Landline telephone service is very limited, and while cellular
service has expanded rapidly into urban areas, reliability varies by region.
The banking and financial infrastructure is underdeveloped, as transactions
remain largely cash based. ATMs are extremely rare in most of Iraq.
possible failure or breach of the Mosul Dam has been a cause for concern for
the better part of the past decade; however, a long-term U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers-Iraqi joint project has allayed fears of an imminent collapse. Even with
a lack of proper maintenance, structural integrity over the next five years is
all but guaranteed.
Economic Concerns/Intellectual Property Theft
Economic espionage and
intellectual property theft are on the rise worldwide. Because these events are
often unreported, it is difficult to
identify victims and business sectors impacted or offenders. In general, the
threat of economic espionage and intellectual property theft is not endemic to
U.S. citizens have been the victims of kidnapping, assault, or threats by family members in response to family disputes over property. Land disputes are common in Iraq and are often
difficult to resolve through legal channels. The U.S. Embassy cannot protect
personal property and cannot take sides in a legal dispute. U.S. citizens
wishing to purchase property should be aware of the risks, including not being
physically present to oversee property. Those involved in a court dispute run
the risk of having cases filed against them, and they may face arrest and jail
citizens, especially female dual nationals of Iraq, have traveled to Iraq with
family members and have been subject to threats, kidnappings, and extortion,
including incidents of loss of custody of children or forced marriage. Women
and children should pay particular attention to any warning signs, including
husbands or other family members withholding money or travel documents after
arrival in Iraq, and should also be aware that U.S. laws cannot protect U.S.
citizens when they are outside of the United States. The Iraqi police and legal
system may offer little protection. Review the State Department’s webpage on
security for female
law prohibits discrimination based on race, disability, or social status, but
it does not address the issue of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Societal discrimination in employment, occupation, and housing based on sexual
orientation, gender identity, and unconventional appearance is common. Review
the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+
OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice,
and the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based
law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment,
education, access to health care, and other state services. The government
enforces the law in the public sector, but not in the private sector. Access
for persons with disabilities to buildings and in educational and work settings
remains inconsistent. Public and government buildings, as well as public
bathrooms, may not be accessible. Review the State Department’s webpage on
security for travelers
statistics and/or crime reporting mechanisms in the IKR are unreliable. Informally,
Kurdish authorities comment that drug use and cross border drug trafficking are
becoming a more serious concern. Most drug possession in the IKR is for
personal use, however, rather than for large-scale sales, distribution, or
cross-border trafficking. Kurdish airport and border control agencies have drug
U.S. citizens in Iraq remain at high risk for kidnapping and terrorist
violence. In 2018, the threat of violence in the IKR continued with the presence
of ISIS near Kurdish areas. U.S. citizens who choose to visit or reside in Iraq
despite the travel advisory must take responsibility for their own personal
security and belongings. Until the security situation significantly improves,
the threat of kidnapping/hostage-taking, unlawful detention, and isolation
remain a serious concern for all visitors. Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.
ISIS has weaponized small,
personal-use drones. ISIS used drones to conduct pre-attack reconnaissance and
drop small explosive charges on Coalition forces. The use of drones by anyone
other than Kurdish security agencies or approved Coalition forces will initiate
a rapid and aggressive response from Kurdish police and security services.
Persons using drones without prior approval face detention, arrest, and
deportation. Authorities will confiscate drones and not return them, including
those in checked or carry-on baggage; travelers risk detention and/or denial of
entry into the IKR. Customs officers have the broad authority to search persons
or vehicles at Iraqi ports of entry. Officers may confiscate any goods they
deem may pose a threat to the peace, security, health, environment, or social
order of Iraq. Authorities may confiscate antiquities or cultural items
suspected of illegal export, as well as undeclared goods. Visitors may also have
to return such goods, at their expense, to the jurisdiction from which they
came. Read the State Department’s webpage on customs and import restrictions for information on what you
cannot take into or out of other countries.
While the IKR may grant border
access without an Iraqi visa, the government of Iraq strictly enforces
requirements regarding visas and stamps for entry/exit, residency cards,
vehicle registration, authorizations for weapons, and movements through
checkpoints. Visitors must have an Iraqi visa for travel into Iraqi areas
outside of the IKR. All non-diplomatic passport holders must
obtain a residency permit if they intend to stay in the IKR for more than ten
Unauthorized photography, especially of IKR security forces and
checkpoints, is illegal. IKR military personnel may confiscate equipment and
temporarily detain individuals taking unauthorized photographs or asking
probing questions to IKR police and security officials. Review OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.
The emergency line in Iraq is 130. IKR police and military units can
respond quickly to security incidents, terrorist attacks, and criminal
activities. IKR police and security services have sufficient training and
command and control to direct their officers where required, and have modern
weapons and security equipment. Specialized units, such as tactical response
and explosive ordinance disposal teams, have enhanced training and equipment.
IKR police and security services are professional and highly responsive to
diplomats, U.S. citizens, and other Westerners. For local first responders,
refer to the Consulate’s Emergency
proper identification to avoid undue questioning and delays at checkpoints or
if you encounter police. Make several copies of passports and other vital
and follow instructions fully if approached by IKR security personnel. Police
harassment is rare; detained U.S. nationals should follow the instructions of
host-nation security and be compliant and respectful.
the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.
The ability of the Consulate General to assist U.S. citizens facing difficulty,
including arrest, is extremely limited. Many services that once existed (e.g. U.S.
military-provided medical evacuations, transportation, convoy support, lodging,
quick reaction forces, and personal security details) are no longer available
through the Consulate. U.S. citizens who choose to visit or reside in Iraq
despite the travel advisory must take responsibility for their own personal
security and belongings.
IKR hospitals and emergency medical services do not meet U.S. standards.
Although a few hospitals and dental clinics meet a Western standard of care,
local hospitals typically have substandard staffing and equipment, and may not
carry specialized medicines. Use IKR hospitals only as a contingency for urgent
life-or-death emergencies. For medical assistance and evacuation services, refer
to the Consulate’s Medical
modern medical care and medicines are not widely available in Iraq. Conflict
has left some medical facilities non-operational and medical stocks and
supplies severely depleted. Blood banks exist, though the blood supply may not
be sufficient in the event of an emergency and likely has not been tested under
U.S. standards for infectious disease.
There is limited mental health or psychiatric care available. As
Iraq is a country under conflict, pre-existing mental health conditions and
symptoms may resurface or exacerbate due to exposure to ongoing events and the
private medical evacuation insurance and have enough cash on hand to pay for
urgent medical treatment. Hospitals, out-patient care, and diagnostic support
services, such as imaging or other medical specialists, require cash payment.
Hospitals will not accept insurance, credit cards, or promissory notes. The
U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health
insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Department’s
webpage on insurance
Tuberculosis, MERS, Cholera, and food-borne illnesses are prevalent,
as are breathing problems caused by frequently hazardous air quality.
CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Iraq.
Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Traveling with Medication, I’m Drinking What in My Water?, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for
Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad.
OSAC Country Council
The Country Council in Erbil meets quarterly. Contact
OSAC’s Middle East & North Africa team
for more information or to join.
Ishtar, Ankawa, Erbil
Hours of Operation: 0800
to 1700, Sunday to Thursday.
Embassy Operator: 066-211-4554
(from Iraq) or 1-240-264-3467 extension 4554 (from the U.S.)
calls after normal business hours: 066-211-4000 (from
Iraq) or 1-240-264-3467 (from the U.S.) and ask to speak with the Duty
Other U.S. Diplomatic Posts In Iraq
Al Kindi Street, Baghdad, Iraq. 0760-030-3000 (from
Iraq) or 1-301-985-8841 ext. 2833/3343 (from the U.S.).
you travel, consider the following resources: