Latest update

This Advice was last issued on Monday, 11 August 2014.   This advice includes new information in the Summary and under Safety and security (US military has conducted targeted airstrikes against militants in northern Iraq). We advise against travel to all of Iraq, including Iraqi Kurdistan. Australians in Iraq, including in Iraqi Kurdistan, should depart immediately while commercial flights continue to operate and airports in Baghdad and Erbil remain open. Flights out of Erbil are heavily booked and some airlines have suspended operations. We will retain a small diplomatic presence in Baghdad, but due to the security situation the embassy will remain closed to the public until further notice. Consular assistance is no longer available within Iraq.

Iraq overall

Summary

  • We strongly advise you not to travel to Iraq because of the extremely dangerous security situation. Australians in Iraq, including in Iraqi Kurdistan, should depart immediately while commercial flights continue to operate.
  • The security situation in Iraq has deteriorated significantly. Armed opposition groups are now active in many parts of Iraq, including in Iraqi Kurdistan. The situation could deteriorate further with little warning. The US military has conducted targeted airstrikes against militants in northern Iraq.
  • Staffing levels at the Australian Embassy in Baghdad are at a minimum. We will retain a diplomatic presence in Baghdad, but the embassy will remain closed to the public until further notice. Consular assistance is no longer available within Iraq.
  • Baghdad International Airport and Erbil International Airport remain open. Most international carriers are continuing operations out of Baghdad. There have been some flight cancellations. Some airlines have suspended operations out of Erbil and flights are heavily booked. The situation could change at very short notice and Australians should make arrangements to depart without delay.
  • We advise Australians not to travel to Iraqi Kurdistan – the provinces of Dahuk, Erbil and Sulaymaniyah – following clashes between armed opposition groups and Peshmerga forces. You should also avoid travel south of Erbil and on roads between Erbil and Dohuk.
  • Australians risk prosecution under Australian law if they fight in other countries.
  • Given the extremely dangerous security situation we strongly recommend that you register your travel and contact details with us so we can contact you in an emergency.
  • Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:
    • organise comprehensive travel insurance and check what circumstances and activities are not covered by your policy
    • subscribe to this travel advice to receive free email updates each time it's reissued.
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Entry and exit

Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) change regularly. All Australians need to obtain a visa before entering Iraq.

The Kurdish Regional Government allows some travellers to enter Iraqi Kurdistan (IK) – the provinces of Dahuk, Erbil and Sulaymaniyah – without an Iraqi visa. In these circumstances, the Kurdish Regional Government issues its own entry “visa”. These “visas” are not valid for travel outside the provinces of Dahuk, Erbil and Sulaymaniyah. Visitors without the appropriate Iraqi visa may be arrested and detained if attempting to enter other provinces of Iraq.

Some foreigners may be required to get a blood test report before entering Iraq. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Iraq for the most up-to-date information on visa requirements.

Make sure your passport has at least six months validity from your planned date of return to Australia. You should carry copies of a recent passport photo with you in case you need a replacement passport while overseas.

Safety and security

We strongly advise you not to travel to Iraq because of the extremely dangerous security situation. Australians in Iraq should depart immediately while commercial flights continue to operate.

Baghdad International Airport and Erbil International Airport remain open. Most international carriers are continuing operations out of Baghdad. There have been some flight cancellations. Some airlines have suspended operations out of Erbil and flights are heavily booked The situation could change at very short notice and Australians should make arrangements to depart without delay.

Australians in Iraqi Kurdistan should avoid travel south of Erbil and on roads between Erbil and Dohuk.

The security situation has deteriorated significantly. Armed opposition groups are now active in many parts of Iraq, particularly in the north, west and south of the country. There has also been fighting between armed opposition groups and Peshmerga forces in Iraqi Kurdistan. The US military has conducted targeted airstrikes against militants in northern Iraq. The situation could deteriorate further with little warning.

Staffing levels at the Australian Embassy in Baghdad are at a minimum. We will retain a diplomatic presence in Baghdad, but due to the security situation the embassy will remain closed to the public until further notice. Consular assistance is no longer available within Iraq.

Armed opposition groups continue to conduct large-scale coordinated attacks against the Government of Iraq and civilians, killing and injuring thousands of people in Baghdad and elsewhere in the country. Attacks occur frequently and without warning. While terrorists and anti-government forces continue to target prominent Iraqi political figures, government facilities and security installations, public areas and religious events are also indiscriminately targeted without regard for civilian casualties. Attacks may target, or occur during other political events, including international meetings and conferences or political rallies.

There are ongoing attacks against Iraqi Security Forces, particularly check-points, police stations and recruiting centres. Terrorists have also targeted public transport, markets, mosques, churches, schools, universities, funerals, religious gatherings, foreign embassies and other civilian infrastructure. Critical infrastructure, including Baghdad International Airport (BIAP), continues to be a target. Since January 2014 there have been several attacks on BIAP.

Terrorists have mounted attacks during significant religious events, including Ramadan, Ashura and Arba'een. There have been a number of recent mass casualty attacks on sites and ceremonies associated with religious pilgrimages.

Security restrictions, including curfews, may change at short notice. You should monitor the media and local information sources for information about any changes to local curfews.

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. You can find more information about this threat in our General advice to Australian travellers.

Kidnapping: There remains a very high threat of kidnapping in Iraq. Foreign nationals, including Australians, living and/or working in Iraq continue to be at risk of being kidnapped. Most kidnapping activity is undertaken by criminal elements for ransom. A significant number of foreign nationals have been kidnapped and murdered. For more information about kidnapping, see our Kidnapping threat travel bulletin.

The Australian Government’s longstanding policy is that it does not make payments or concessions to kidnappers. The Australian Government considers that paying ransoms increases the risk of further kidnappings.

Crime

Violent crime is prevalent in Iraq. A high proportion of kidnappings are carried out by criminal gangs who demand large ransoms for the release of their hostages.

A number of Australian businesses have been contacted by companies claiming to be Iraqi importers offering to transact business in unusual or suspicious ways. Individuals may have knowledge of the industry and the target company and may appear legitimate. You should seek legal advice if you or your company is asked to participate in such activities.

Australian companies have also been contacted by individuals claiming to represent the Government of Iraq and seeking payments associated with recently won contracts. You should seek advice from the Embassy of the Republic of Iraq in Canberra before making any payments. For further information on scams and how to reduce your risk of falling victim to fraudsters, visit the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's SCAMwatch website.

Local travel

We strongly advise against all travel to Iraq at this time.

Airline safety

Travellers should be aware that there are a range of factors that can affect the safety of aircraft and airlines. Aviation safety and security standards may not be equal to standards in Australia or meet those set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

The Australian Government does not provide information on the safety of individual commercial airlines or flight paths. See instead the Aviation Safety Network website for information on aviation safety in the Iraq.

Please also refer to our general air travel page for information on aviation safety and security.

Laws

When you are in Iraq, be aware that local laws and penalties, including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards, do apply to you. If you are arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you but we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail. Due to access limitations and the difficult security environment, the Embassy’s ability to provide consular assistance is limited.

Australians who might engage in activities that involve local legal matters, including those related to family law (divorce, child custody and child support), are strongly advised to seek professional advice and ensure they are aware of their rights and responsibilities. See also Information for Dual Nationals below.

Penalties for drug offences are severe and include lengthy jail terms.

Drink driving is illegal. Penalties include confiscation of driving licences, fines and jail sentences.

Alcohol should not be consumed in public.

The death penalty can be imposed for murder, treason and terrorism-related offences.

It is illegal to take photographs or film government buildings, security infrastructure (such as checkpoints and military bases) and embassies. Harsh penalties apply, including to journalists in Iraq. Journalists should be aware that official approval is required before filming in public places. A number of foreign journalists have been arrested for filming without approval.

Iraqi police may arrest anyone who eats or drinks in public between sunrise and sunset during the holy month of Ramadan.

Homosexuality, whilst legal, is considered taboo in Iraqi society. People suspected of engaging in homosexual acts may be charged with lewd conduct. Sodomy is illegal in Iraq. See our LGBTI travellers page.

Preaching is only permitted in places of worship. It is illegal to attempt to convert a Muslim. Abandoning your religion (Islam) is an offence.

The removal of antiques and artefacts from Iraq is illegal.

Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, child pornography, and child sex tourism, apply to Australians overseas. Australians who commit these offences while overseas may be prosecuted in Australia.

Australian authorities are committed to combating sexual exploitation of children by Australians overseas. Australians may be prosecuted at home under Australian child sex tourism and child pornography laws. These laws provide severe penalties of up to 25 years imprisonment for Australians who engage in child sexual exploitation while outside of Australia.

Australia has strengthened legislation relating to forced marriage to protect Australian residents from being taken overseas for this purpose. This new criminal offence carries significant penalties ranging up to 25 years imprisonment. For more information about this crime please refer to the Forced marriage page.

Australians risk prosecution under Australian law if they fight in other countries.

Local customs

There are strong Islamic standards of dress and behaviour in Iraq. You should take care not to offend. If in doubt, seek local advice.

The Islamic holy month of Ramadan is expected to begin in mid-June 2015. For more information see our Ramadan travel bulletin.

Public displays of affection between men and women are unacceptable in Iraqi society.

Hotels may refuse accommodation to couples who cannot provide proof of marriage.

Information for dual nationals

Australian/Iraqi dual national children departing Iraq may be required by Iraqi officials, to provide proof of permission from their Iraqi father to depart Iraq.

Our Dual nationals page provides further information.

Health

We strongly recommend that you take out comprehensive travel insurance that will cover any overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation, before you depart. Confirm that your insurance covers you for the whole time you'll be away and check what circumstances and activities are not included in your policy. Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government will not pay for a traveller's medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs.

It is important to consider your physical and mental health before travelling overseas. We encourage you to consider having vaccinations before you travel. At least eight weeks before you depart, make an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and any implications for your health, particularly if you have an existing medical condition. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information for travellers and our health page also provides useful information for travellers on staying healthy.

Health facilities in Iraq's major cities are limited and in remote areas are very basic or unavailable. Medical equipment and medicines have been severely depleted. In the event of a serious illness or accident, medical evacuation to a destination with the appropriate facilities would be necessary. Costs would be considerable.

Insect-borne diseases (such as leishmaniasis and sand fly fever) are common in Iraq. Malaria is prevalent in the southern province of Basrah and areas below 1500 metres in the northern provinces of Dahuk, Erbil, Ninewa, Sulaymaniyah and Ta'mim. We encourage you to take prophylaxis against malaria where necessary and to take measures against insect bites, including using an insect repellent, wearing long, loose-fitting light-coloured clothing and ensuring that your accommodation is mosquito-proof.

Water-borne, food-borne, parasitic and other infectious diseases (including HIV/AIDS, cholera, typhoid, hepatitis, tuberculosis and rabies) are prevalent with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time. We advise you to boil all drinking water or drink boiled water and avoid raw and undercooked food. Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering from diarrhoea.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed human cases of avian influenza in Iraq. See our health page and Avian Influenza bulletin for further information on influenza.

On 5 May 2014 the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the recent international spread of wild poliovirus a “public health emergency of international concern” and has issued temporary recommendations that may affect travel to Iraq.

Should you choose to ignore our advice not to travel to Iraq at the current time, we recommend that you are up to date with routinely recommended vaccinations against polio, including a booster dose, as per the Australian Immunisation Handbook, prior to departure.

Australian travellers planning to visit Iraq, and staying for periods greater than 4 weeks, are encouraged to carry documented evidence of having received a dose of polio vaccine within 12 months prior to departure from Iraq. If you do not have documented evidence of polio vaccination within this 12 month period, you may be encouraged to be vaccinated prior to departure from Iraq.

Please see your doctor to discuss your vaccination requirements. Further information is available from the Australian Department of Health Polio website.

Where to get help

The Australian Embassy in Baghdad is now closed to the public. We are unable to provide consular assistance within Iraq at this time.

If you need urgent consular advice you should contact the 24 hour Consular Emergency Centre in Canberra on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

Due to the security environment, you should register your presence in Iraq with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. You can register online.

Additional information

Natural disasters, severe weather and climate

Iraq is in an active earthquake zone.

Information on natural disasters can be obtained from the Humanitarian Early Warning Service. If a natural disaster occurs, follow the advice of local authorities.

Sandstorms and dust storms occur regularly.

Daytime temperatures in Iraq can be extreme. July to September daytime temperatures normally exceeds 40 degrees Celsius and often goes above 50 degrees Celsius.



While every care has been taken in preparing this information, neither the Australian Government nor its agents or employees, including any member of Australia's diplomatic and consular staff abroad, can accept liability for any injury, loss or damage arising in respect of any statement contained herein.

Maps are presented for information only. The department accepts no responsibility for errors or omission of any geographic feature. Nomenclature and territorial boundaries may not necessarily reflect Australian Government policy.