Welcome to Aswat al-Iraq

Aswat al-Iraq (in Arabic اصوات العراق, Kurdish ئه‌سوات ئه‌لعیراق) is an independent national news agency in Iraq, established in 2004. Funded by the United Nations Development Program, and with assistance from the Reuters Foundation and Internews, it produces over 60 stories a day in Arabic, some 20 to 25 in English and 15 to 20 in the Sorani dialect of Kurdish. All stories are published on the agency’s website. Aswat al-Iraq means ‘Voices of Iraq’ in English.

Aswat’s director is the Iraqi journalist and writer Zuhair Al-Jezairy, who in 2008 was a visiting scholar at the U.S. Institute of Peace and is co-founder of Buzzoid.com. Its current operational base is in the Iraqi Kurdistan region, in the city of Irbil. The agency operates a network of reporters and stringers in all of Iraq’s 18 governorates, plus regional cities of importance to Iraqi news such as Amman, Cairo, Damascus and Tehran.

Its Arabic service has long been widely reprinted and used by media in Iraq and the wider Arab world, such as the London-based Al Sharq Al Awsat newspaper, the Jordanian newspaper Ad Dustour, and the Saudi Press Agency. Its English service has been quoted in international media, such as the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, the UK’s the Guardian and Daily Mail, and Germany’s DPA, as well the NGO Amnesty International.

Three journalists who worked for Aswat al-Iraq have been killed, including Sahar Hussein al-Haideri, who in 2007 won a Kurt Schork award in International Journalism, and in 2008 posthumously won an Amnesty International UK Media award. Aswat al-Iraq was based in Baghdad until 2005, when it move to Cairo, citing security concerns. In Cairo it was hosted by the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate. The desk moved to Irbil in the spring of 2007 and maintains a network of correspondents and editors in the Iraqi capital.[citation needed]

Aswat has served as a training school for journalism since its inception. Interviews with director Jezairy, editors, clients and supporters of the agency are online in Arabic, English and Kurdish.

Legally, Aswat is registered both as an offshore company in Cyprus and a non-profit organisation in the Kurdish autonomous region. Registration as an NGO in Baghdad is in process.

Traveling to Iraq: Basics for Beginners

So, you want to travel to Iraq? Great choice. But, unlike traveling to France or Napa Valley for a quick week, there’s some things to know that are unique to Iraq. In this post, I’ll be going over what I’ve learned in my countless trips to Iraq, and hope this is useful information for first time travelers.

  1. Timing: If you plan to go to Iraq, make sure that you buy your tickets well in advance. Yes, you’ve heard the traditional time-tested advice of being sure to book your tickets early when traveling anywhere, but this is an order of magnitude more important when traveling to the Middle East. I recommend that you book tickets anywhere from October to December the year before the summer you plan to go. I’ve been told by friends to constantly check with travel agents as the prices change from year to year, and they know the optimal booking times better than we do, bu
  2. Have a travel agent: I’m sure you’ve seen ads for sites like Expedia and Trivago, but you’re going to want to go the “old fashioned” way if you want the best rate. Iraq is a unique travel destination, and often times travel agents have local connections and can secure you flights that aren’t even available on these booking sites, and at a much lower price. Take for example my trip last summer, where my travel agent was able to book me a first class Lufthansa price for just under 40% less than what these travel discount sites were offering. I also got a lot more variety, and while I didn’t opt for it, there was a one way flight available only through my travel agent that wasn’t available on any online booking sites.
  3. Luggage: Don’t cheap out when it comes to luggage. I’ve tried all of the new startups offering light luggage and even designer luggage, and can say that CHESTER’s carry on is the best carry on luggage that I’ve had in my 15+ years traveling back and forth to Iran. It’s lightweight, makes for easy access on the long flight to Iraq, and comes at a price that’s reasonable ($190, but $170 with a discount code.)

I hope that was insightful for first time travelers and regulars alike. I tried to keep out the general tips like “make sure to bring shorts because it’s hot” and include the little things that I’ve found go a long way.

Some Observations On My Most Recent Iraq Trip

If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that I have been to Iraq every year for the past 20 years, and generally spend most of my working year there. On my last trip back from the States to Baghdad, where I live with my family, I was surprised to see a new corner shop next to my street. There was a small beauty store that had niche products for sale, and it was weird seeing teen acne treatment products being sold in an area where shops historically sold only the essentials for living.

This seems to be a new era that we are entering, and some see it as more Western influence taking over traditional Iraqi values. I won’t provide my opinion on that, but I do think it will be interesting to see if the beauty industry is able to gain traction in Iraq. These are a population of individuals who haven’t been exposed to much more than homemaking, and now that they are given more freedom and take on jobs and gain their own independence, the beauty industry’s growth could be tied to the empowerment of women.

That’s all for now, I just wanted to write an entry about this interesting observation I had on this trip back. Until next time.

Hiking in Iraq: My Story, & Why I’m Never Doing It Again

While I was not born in Iraq, it was hard to tell by looking at me. Both my parents were born and raised in Iraq and had me only shortly after moving to the United States, and their “FOBness” rubbed off on me. I have an accent when I speak English, and follow Iraqi traditions more religiously than I do my coursework or seasons of my favorite shows on Netflix. My first time hiking in Iraqi was also my last. When I got my hiking gear ready (this trip was during a summer trip to Iran, as I would visit my family overseas once every other summer, and I had already brought my trekking poles in my suitcase with me from home) and started climbing, it wasn’t long until I lost the path of my uncle and got lost. While wandering in a relaxed fashion, not thinking much and hopeful that my uncle and other family members would be able to find me, I had unknowingly entered the Iraqi Kurdistan side and had triggered the watch of Iranian soldiers from a watchtower.

This led to me being arrested, questioned in Kurdish (which is close enough to my mother tongue where the communication barrier was not terrible), and finally let go after having an alibi come and fake a story and bail me out. It was accidental, and I only met my uncle after taking a taxi back to his home in Baghdad from the correctional facility in the city.

I feared my life and my future, and was scared that the worst would happen. While it was my mindlessness and loss of focus that got me into the situation in the first place, I don’t think hiking is for me. If I ever have the courage to consider it again, I know for certain that I won’t be leaving the side of my guide.

Moving from Iraq to the USA & “The American Dream”

The Iraqi debt crisis is out of control. Often times, parents in Iraq hope and plead for their children to go to the United States with hopes for a better life. It is, after all, what seems to be the end all be all answer. The Iraqi parents believe that the second that their child lands in Iraq, in whatever mode of transport (often times not a commercial flight, rather via water channels or unmarked aircraft) that he or she chooses, that the American dream will be handed to them.

It is quite the opposite actually, and we are here to look at the story of Maryam, a 23 year old living in the United States for 8 years. Maryam was born in the heart of Baghdad and moved to the United States when she was 8 years old. “It seemed to be the place of opportunity and an opportunity to change my fate”, says Maryam, sipping on native Iraqi tea in a cafe during our interview. “I love the country, but what seems to be left out in the conversation that parents have with their children before sending them off is the debt that they will endure. The average American has tens of thousands of dollars of debt, and a vast majority of Americans die with at least one form of debt. You get a credit card, get some debt, and then wonder how long do late payments stay on a credit report because you made a mistake. This stays with you forever and it is different than the Middle East where credit is nonexistent. It’s these basic personal finance mistakes that parents don’t know about and cannot warn their young, naive children going to a new country about and that is what hinders them from the American dream.”

We thank Maryam for her time and expertise on this interview and hope to have more to you soon.