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Next Stop...Iraq?

There's nothing like armed conflict to put a destination on the map—at least if postwar Iraq is anything to go by. Prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom, the U.S. State Department barred Americans from traveling to the country. No sooner had hostilities ended, however, than some adventure travel companies began taking their first bookings. "A bunch of people have already signed up for a tour that doesn't even exist yet," said John Sugnet, a spokesman for Geographic Expeditions, a San Francisco-based operator known for taking travelers to hard-to-access destinations such as Iran and Afghanistan. This September the company will make an exploratory trip to Iraq to better gauge the situation. "There are logistical questions about the state of hotels and roads, who will be issuing visas, and so forth," said Carolyn McIntyre, the company's director for the Middle East. The deciding factor, she added, will be safety. If all goes as planned, the Iraq itinerary will be scheduled for spring 2004. Phil Haines, founder of U.K.-based Live Travel, had been taking groups into Iraq since 1997; he says he'll relaunch trips there once the infrastructure improves.

Despite the looting of the Iraqi National Museum and the National Library & Archives in April, there is still plenty for visitors to see, McIntyre says. "Many ruins are left and there's amazing Islamic architecture, more than can possibly be looted away."

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