Kamal al-Ayash, Anbar
The formerly popular tourist resort west of Baghdad was most recently in the middle of Islamic State-held territory. But city families are coming for a swim anyway.
The travellers had already expressed their trepidation – they were going around 90 kilometres out of Baghdad to what was once one of Iraq’s most popular tourist resorts, Lake Habbaniyah. But most recently the area around the former tropical paradise had been controlled by the extremist group known as the Islamic State.
Despite security worries, Haider al-Mohammadawi had brought his family here to escape the metropolitan heat. “The security situation and the destruction in these provinces, as well as all the rumours and fake news, gave us a false picture of the situation here,” he told Al Menassa. “So there was some reluctance to visit this beautiful place.”
But they came anyway, he says, because they feel that their presence is a gesture of support. “We are providing the tourist management and the city with financial and moral support, so that they may eventually improve the services here.”
First opened in the late 1970s, Lake Habbaniyah boasted a large hotel, complete with over 300 rooms and 500 holiday chalets. Located 60 kilometers out of Fallujah and west of Baghdad, it offered Iraqis a respite from the oppressive heat of the average Iraqi summer. However over the past few years, the resort had come to occupied mostly by displaced Iraqis who had fled the extremist group known as the Islamic State.
Another group of travelers reported they had been worried as they drove past desolate ruins today, left over from fighting against the extremists. But the gates of the tourist city are guarded and as they arrived, they could hear music and singing. “Once we reached the lake and saw the large numbers of tourists, we were sure we would have a good time too,” one of the visitors, Abdul Amir, says, as he and his companions hammered in their tent pegs. “We came here last in 2010 but this won’t be the last time we come here. And we are going to tell our friends and relatives about this too, to forget about rumours about the security situation down here.”
Nearby a family originally from the Mansour neighbourhood in Baghdad was setting out a meal on a table by the lake shore – they had fruit and pastries and wanted to share it with others nearby.
“We have enjoyed this trip despite the poor services and some pretty obvious ruins,” Ahmed al-Saadi said, as he was lighting a fire to cook some fish; his friends were changing into swim trunks so they could get in the water.
Al-Saadi believes that the situation can only continue to improve at Lake Habbaniyah. The Iraqi central Bank recently gave the Anbar council money to restore services along the road between the city of Fallujah and the tourist centre here, he noted happi