TODAY   |  August 09, 2011

What’s it like? 9 days as a tourist in Iraq

Writer Paula Froelich discusses her article in Playboy’s September issue that recounts her improbable 9-day tourist trip to post-Saddam Iraq this past May.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

NATALIE MORALES, anchor: Well, some people like beach vacations, some people like adventure travel , but would you go to Baghdad for a break? Writer Paula Froelich took a trip to Iraq this past May as a tourist and wrote about it for the September issue of Playboy magazine . Paula , good morning.

Ms. PAULA FROELICH ("Down and Out in Baghdad"): Good morning.

MORALES: Yeah, people do read it for the -- they get Playboy for the articles, right? Especially yours.

Ms. FROELICH: Absolutely.

MORALES: OK.

Ms. FROELICH: That's what my -- I told my dad.

MORALES: Exactly. Now, you know, I don't think Baghdad is quite on the top 10 vacation spots list just yet, so why go there? I mean, it's not safe.

Ms. FROELICH: Well, you know, it actually depends. And it's kind of ironic; if you're outside of the green zone ...

MORALES: Mm-hmm.

Ms. FROELICH: ...in the unfortunately named red zone you're actually safer.

MORALES: Hm.

Ms. FROELICH: So...

MORALES: Yeah.

Ms. FROELICH: And, you know, I think a lot of people just think of Baghdad as kind of a cesspool, a war zone , they don't understand why you should go there, when actually Iraq is the cradle of civilization.

MORALES: Right.

Ms. FROELICH: This is where Hammurabi 's laws were found or this is where writing was created. And actually if Saddam had not been such a narcissistic egomaniacal maniac...

MORALES: Mm-hmm.

Ms. FROELICH: ... Iraq could have been bigger than Egypt . I mean, I was walking...

MORALES: Yeah.

Ms. FROELICH: We walked along archaeological digs that were 6,000 years old.

MORALES: Yeah.

Ms. FROELICH: And it was really interesting. I mean, granted, there was the random place where it was like the hangout for al-Qaeda in Iraq .

MORALES: Right. The random place.

Ms. FROELICH: But, you know, as long as you're out by 5, you're fine.

MORALES: OK. That sounds so relaxing already.

Ms. FROELICH: Yeah.

MORALES: But you were there for nine days. And you actually saw quite a bit of the country, not to mention quite a bit of the checkpoints as well, the security checkpoints, right?

Ms. FROELICH: Yes.

MORALES: How much were you able to see?

Ms. FROELICH: You know what, I was actually able to see a lot. There were two tours, there was a nine- and 16-day tour. Unfortunately, I was only on the nine-day tour. And we saw...

MORALES: Mm-hmm.

Ms. FROELICH: We went all around. We went to Mosul , we went out by Kirkuk . Actually Kirkuk was actually pretty dangerous.

MORALES: Mm-hmm.

Ms. FROELICH: We were there 43 minutes before all the big bombs went off one day.

MORALES: And you're on a bus with tourists, other Western tourists, which actually sounded...

Ms. FROELICH: Yes.

MORALES: ...probably a little more difficult than the rest of the trip that you were on.

Ms. FROELICH: It was...

MORALES: As you describe it in your article.

Ms. FROELICH: You know what, it was actually interesting because some people were there for interesting reasons. There was a woman there because her Iraqi diplomat lover had died and she was there to see his grave.

MORALES: Huh.

Ms. FROELICH: And the only way to get into Iraq is on a group tour right now. You can't get a single Iraqi visa.

MORALES: Mm-hmm.

Ms. FROELICH: And then there were some people who just like dangerous things. And there was a German guy who liked to jump off famous things, so.

MORALES: And there are two tour companies , as I understand, that go there.

Ms. FROELICH: Yes.

MORALES: And so this is -- the one was the American tour company. It's interesting because of all the billions of dollars that our government has spent there, are you seeing that the, you know, the rebuilding efforts are actually taking hold? Do you see a country that is now starting to pick up and starting to thrive?

Ms. FROELICH: Well, let's put it this way, the roads are paved, and that's nice.

MORALES: That's about it.

Ms. FROELICH: However, I will say when I came back they came out with the $6 billion missing number and I was not that shocked.

MORALES: Yeah.

Ms. FROELICH: You know, it was -- one of the reasons I went is it was interesting to see, because Maliki -- some people accused him of stealing the election, and he had come out with a 100-day promise saying...

MORALES: Mm-hmm.

Ms. FROELICH: ...you know, very Obama -esque, 'I'm going to clean up corruption,' and we were there on the very tail end of this promise, and the violence was just going through the roof.

MORALES: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Ms. FROELICH: And it's really unfortunate because now they're saying that the Iraqis want to invite the US to stay, and as one US Army man involved with Operation New Dawn told me, 'You know what, if we don't stay, the Iraqis are kind of -- nnh.'

MORALES: Yeah.

Ms. FROELICH: 'And if we stay, we're -- tkk,' you know.

MORALES: Right.

Ms. FROELICH: Because the Sadrists have already said, 'Listen, we're going to blow it up.'

MORALES: So not recommended, then, I think, for travel just yet, but...

Ms. FROELICH: Actually, you know what, they had very good security.

MORALES: Yeah.

Ms. FROELICH: And I would recommend it. I would not recommend bringing children along.

MORALES: Right. No, definitely not.

Ms. FROELICH: And I would recommend a heck of a lot of patience because 159 checkpoints in one day is a little tiring.

MORALES: Exhausting. And not to mention, you have to wear head coverings and all of that, so keep in mind.

Ms. FROELICH: It's true.

MORALES: For women it's definitely a different culture.

Ms. FROELICH: For women, it's a very different experience than men.

MORALES: Yeah.

Ms. FROELICH: And wearing a non-natural fiber burqa in 120-degree heat is not exactly fun.

MORALES: A lot. Yeah. Yeah. Paula Froelich , as always, thank you. Great perspective. And you can read the article in Playboy because I know you just get it for the articles. Coming up next in TODAY'S KITCHEN , fresh meals straight from the garden. But first, this is TODAY on NBC .