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Iraq has had a period of relative quiet since the Islamic State terrorist group was driven out of the nation five years ago, despite the fact that the war-torn region continues to face political, economic, and environmental difficulties.
The Kurdish mountains in northern Iraq have experienced a boom in tourism as a result of the return of some semblance of security.
The semi-autonomous Kurdish government reports that over the recent Eid holiday, about 700,000 visitors, mostly from southern Iraq but also from surrounding countries, went to the cold sanctuary of the highlands.
In the post-Isis landscape, military convoys have been replaced by travelling tours as traffic jams snake out of cities like Duhok and Sulaymaniyah and towards the mountains, waterfalls, and lakes.
One attraction is the Inshke cave, located northeast of Duhok and two hours from Mosul, which has an estimated age of 7,000 years.
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The site has performed a variety of functions over the years, including a Christian church, a factory, a military hospital, and currently a restaurant.
The natural cave, which is tucked away among the gorgeous hills, offers a picturesque view of one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces and a cool spring that trickles into a water fountain inside the restaurant.
However the otherwise idyllic spot harbours a hidden danger under the surface.
Hameed Amedi Salih from the local tourism board told the Times: “We tell people not to go up there.”
He further told the Times that just beyond the ridge lies a hazardous minefield that remains active.
Iraq possesses the largest concentration of landmines in the world, spanning over 1,200 square kilometers and containing a significant number of explosive devices.
This summer commemorates the 35th anniversary of the conclusion of the Iran-Iraq war and coincides with the 20th anniversary of the US-led invasion in 2003.
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For nearly three decades, the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), a demining organisation from the United Kingdom, has been engaged in a systematic effort to clear mines in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Despite their consistent efforts, millions of landmines still remain in the region.
Mines and improvised explosive devices were widely dispersed throughout the former ISIS caliphate, which led to countless evictions and prevented many people from going back to their homes.
The mines still provide a threat to human life, livestock, and livelihoods since they are dispersed randomly.
Locals who are familiar with the area play a critical role in identifying sites where explosions have taken place and alerting people to avoid these dangerous no-go zones when visitors begin to gradually return to the area.
In order to lessen reliance on oil and gas earnings, the Kurdistan Regional Government routinely touts its initiatives to diversify the economy by making investments in tourism and agriculture.
However, the administration is continually accused of stealing money and using it to fund a network of political cronies.
Additionally, internal conflicts between the two leading political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, have often hindered the government’s effectiveness.
Additionally, internal conflicts between the two primary political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, have often hindered the government’s effectiveness.
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