ABOUT Iraq is the birthplace of many of the Earth's oldest civilizations, including the Babylonians and the Assyrians. A part of the Ottoman Empire from 1534, the Treaty of Sèvres brought the area under British control in 1918. Iraq gained independence in 1932. On 14 July 1958, the long-time Hashamite monarchy was overthrown in a coup led by Abdul Kassem that paved way to radical political reforms, including the legalisation of political parties such as the Ba'ath and the Communist Party. Baghdad was once famous for its nightlife, with first-class restaurants and all-night clubs where music and sometimes alcohol flowed. Now Iraqi liquor sellers and drinkers are forced underground. Much of the alcohol sold is counterfeit and the price is often more than doubled due to the difficulty in obtaining it. Members-only clubs in Baghdad are currently the only relatively safe havens for socialising, protected by high walls, guards and members lists. Most people stay home at night after 6pm because it is too dangerous to be out. Iraqi cinema and music is on the up. The political situation in Iraq remains extremely unstable, even though the war was officially declared as over in December 2011. Traveling there remains extremely dangerous and strongly discouraged. All foreigners are still in danger of kidnapping, murder, and general armed violence. Tourism visas for Iraq are not granted at the moment. Sporadic violence can occur anywhere in the country, even though Iraqi Kurdistan is relatively safe.

CLIMATE The average temperatures in Iraq range from higher than 48 C in July and August to below freezing in January. A majority of the rainfall occurs from December through April and is more abundant in the mountainous region and may reach 100 centimeters a year in some places. The summer months are marked by two kinds of wind phenomena: the southern and southeasterly sharqi, a dry, dusty wind with occasional gusts to eighty kilometers an hour, occurs from April to early June and again from late September through November; the shamal, a steady wind from the north and northwest, prevails from mid-June to mid-September.

BEWARE There is a high threat of terrorism in Iraq, which includes violence, kidnapping and targeting foreign nationals, including those of non-Western appearance. As a foreigner in Iraq, you are a high value target to terrorists, insurgents and criminals who conduct regular and widespread lethal attacks.