Falluja’s Accidental Tourist

Luca Marchio, 33, a native of Como, Italy, astonished locals and Iraqi officers when he decided to visit Falluja, a still volatile city near Baghdad, to become their first (unexpected) Western tourist. 

Then came a 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 — a hotel that had not had a casual Western visitor since the American invasion in 2003 — took his details.

A good Iraqi bureaucrat, Mr. Yacoub checked Mr. Marchio’s documents and despite 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,” Mr. Yacoub said. Asked if he thought Iraq was ready for tourists, Mr. Yacoub said, “No.” When he was asked if he believed Falluja was safe for tourists, his emphatic “no” was echoed by staff members and guests standing within earshot.

But there was no stopping Mr. Marchio. For an extra $40, the hotel gave him a tour of Baghdad sights, driving him along the riverfront, where he could photograph a statue of Scheherazade, the narrator of “The Thousand and One Nights,” and see children playing in a riverside garden. He proceeded to the artificial lake near Baghdad University and then to the square named after Baghdad’s founder, Abu Jaafar al-Mansur, on the west bank of the Tigris.

He went on to Zawra’a Park, a family spot with a small zoo and rides. He finished his day in the affluent but bomb-scarred shopping district of Karada, 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.”

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