Iraq: Lots of historic sites, not much tourism

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BAGHDAD -- Of all the frustrating jobs in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion four years ago, imagine the frustration of a man trying to entice tourists to visit here.

"It should be fun, but so far there is no fun," lamented the Iraqi tourism board director, 46-year-old Hamoud Mohsen al-Yacoubi. "When I came to this job I had black hair; now it is gray."

His office sends out promotional magazines to be displayed and distributed by Iraq's embassies abroad. And there is something to sell -- Iraq can boast of thousands of sites with historical, religious and cultural importance.

Of course, the biggest obstacle is the lack of security, the fact that in most of Iraq there's a good chance that Western sightseers would be kidnapped or killed by insurgents or sectarian death squads.

Then there is the obsolete, damaged and investment-starved tourism infrastructure of hotels and airports and poorly trained workers.

But worst of all, the chaos that makes tourism impossible is also destroying the thousands of ruins and historic sites that will be counted on someday to draw visitors.

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