Run 159 : Iraq – Baghdad

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Date : 21st November, 2018

Time : 51’ 22”

Number of runners (total to date) : 40 (2566)

Total distance run to date : 1590 km

Run map and details :

Media :

I’ve run in a lot of places where personal security is front of mind – Venezuela and Papua New Guinea spring to mind – but Iraq was at a different level. And, before I offend anyone, let me be clear that I’m not saying Iraq is more dangerous than other places. Just that, for an overseas visitor, the security precautions are taken very, very seriously.

If you are fortunate enough to obtain a visa to visit Baghdad then offers you a choice of hotels. However, these are all in the red zone. If you want to stay in the green zone, which you are strongly advised to do, then you must stay at the Al Rasheed.

And, if you want to stay at the Al Rasheed, then you need to use their transport as taxis (and most Iraqis) can’t enter the green zone. Which is slightly painful on the wallet because, based on my by now reasonably extensive experience of these matters, I think it is fair to say that it is the most expensive hotel shuttle service in the world.

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On the other hand, it is quite a drive in from the airport. I lost count of the number of military roadblocks and vehicles we had to pass before we got to the hotel. And, when you get there, you enter the hotel on a red carpet – which covers the walkway that used to feature a picture of George Bush. Apparently installed at Saddam’s behest, the idea was that guests literally had to walk all over the US President.

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Once installed in your hotel, you could, in theory, saunter out for a run in the streets of Baghdad or, failing that, the streets of the green zone. In practice this is considered to be too dangerous – so I’m very grateful to everyone who organised for me to run in the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) compound.

This did mean that we wouldn’t be running through the famous Hands of Victory (aka the Crossed Swords) as I’d fondly imagined. In fact, we couldn’t even get close to them and the following picture, taken during a brief and slightly nervy car stop, was the best we could do.

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As it turned out, the UN compound is a great place to run. We started with welcome speeches from Alice Walpole (the UN’s Deputy Special Representative in Iraq) and myself.

Just as I started talking, the loud speakers around the compound burst into life : “Incoming, incoming.” It was only a test – but it gave me a taste of the life led by everyone in the compound.

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About 40 of us set off on the run which took us 9 times round the compound passing unfailingly friendly and supportive security personal at each corner. Each circuit was run clockwise because to run widdershins (counter-clockwise) is apparently bad luck. (Thank you, Alice, for this wisdom – which I shall try to apply to all my future runs!)

Everyone ran at their own speed and there were plenty of opportunities to chat with the runners who came from every corner of the globe. Excellent company all of them, though special mention should perhaps be made of the Australian Ambassador who’d landed in Baghdad that morning after an 18 hour flight from Australia – and still managed a 53 minute 10km.

Here’s the UNAMI video of the event

I couldn’t have been more delighted when I heard afterwards that people enjoyed the run enough to be talking seriously about making it a regular occurrence. (Please send pictures!)

After plenty more photos

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and a number of very generous donations, I said goodbye to everyone and met with the team from Sport Against Violence. They do fantastic work in the Baghdad region and organise a number of runs for peace including the Baghdad marathon.

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They encouraged me to come back to Baghdad and to see more of the city and the people. They were very polite about it but I think they felt I was being too cautious on the security front. They may well be right and I’d certainly love to revisit Baghdad one day and run through the city. However, as the memorial to the 22 people tragically killed in the 2003 attack on the UN compound reminded me, security is, to put it mildly, a difficult issue.

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A lot of people went to a lot of trouble to enable me to run in Baghdad and I’d particularly like to thank Asif who went out of his way to help me with every aspect of the trip ; Alice Walpole; Louis ; Ivan ; Ahmed and the team from Sport Against Violence ; Glen and the British Embassy ; and last, but by no means least, my old college friend Daud who introduced me to Asif and set the whole ball rolling.

I’d also like to thank everyone who ran with me and who donated. I’ll never forget the run in Baghdad and, if any of you can make it, I’d love to see you in London on the 4th July 2020 for the UK, and final, leg of Run the World!

If you’d like to help fight cancer then I and, far more importantly, cancer sufferers around the world, would be immensely grateful for any donations to Cancer Research :

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Facts & Stats

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia.

Iraq is a country in Western Asia. The capital, and largest city, is Baghdad. Iraq is home to diverse ethnic groups including ArabsKurdsAssyriansTurkmenShabakisYazidisArmenians. Around 95% of the country’s 37 million citizens are Muslims, with ChristianityYarsanYezidism and Mandeanism also present. The official languages of Iraq are Arabic and Kurdish.

Iraq has a coastline measuring 58 km (36 miles) on the northern Persian Gulf and encompasses the Mesopotamian Alluvial Plain, the northwestern end of the Zagros mountain range and the eastern part of the Syrian Desert. Two major rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, run south through Iraq and into the Shatt al-Arab near the Persian Gulf. These rivers provide Iraq with significant amounts of fertile land.

The region between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, historically known as Mesopotamia, is often referred to as the cradle of civilisation. It was here that mankind first began to read, write, create laws and live in cities under an organised government—notably Uruk, from which “Iraq” is derived. The area has been home to successive civilisations since the 6th millennium BC. Iraq was the centre of the AkkadianSumerianAssyrian and Babylonian empires. It was also part of the HellenisticRomanMongol, Ottoman and other empires.

The country today known as Iraq was a region of the Ottoman Empire until the partition of the Ottoman Empire in the 20th century. It was made up of three provinces, called vilayets in the Ottoman languageMosul VilayetBaghdad Vilayet, and Basra Vilayet. In April 1920 the British Mandate of Mesopotamia was created under the authority of the League of Nations. A British-backed monarchy joining these vilayets into one Kingdom was established in 1921 under Faisal I of IraqThe Hashemite Kingdom of Iraq gained independence from the UK in 1932. In 1958, the monarchy was overthrown and the Iraqi Republic created. Iraq was controlled by the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party from 1968 until 2003. After an invasion by the United States and its allies in 2003, Saddam Hussein‘s Ba’ath Party was removed from power, and multi-party parliamentary elections were held in 2005. The US presence in Iraq ended in 2011, but the Iraqi insurgency continued and intensified as fighters from the Syrian Civil War spilled into the country. Out of the insurgency came a highly destructive group calling itself ISIL, which took large parts of the north and west. It has since been largely defeated. Disputes over the sovereignty of Iraqi Kurdistan continue. A referendum about the full sovereignty of Iraqi Kurdistan was held on 25 September 2017. On 9 December 2017, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory over ISIL after the group lost its territory in Iraq.

Iraq is a federal parliamentary republic consisting of 19 governorates (provinces) and one autonomous region (Iraqi Kurdistan). The country’s official religion is IslamCulturally, Iraq has a very rich heritage and celebrates the achievements of its past in both pre-Islamic as well as post-Islamic times and is known for its poets. Its painters and sculptors are among the best in the Arab world, some of them being world-class as well as producing fine handicrafts, including rugs and carpets. Iraq is a founding member of the UN as well as of the Arab LeagueOICNon-Aligned Movement and the IMF.

World Bank Data

Here’s the latest World Bank data for Iraq – with the year 2000 as a comparison.

GDP $197.7 bn 2017 $36.6 bn 2004
Population 38.3 m 2017 23.6 m 2000
Primary school enrolment* 108% 2007 97% 2000
CO2 Emissions** 4.8 2014 3.1 2000
% below poverty line*** 18.9% 2012 22.4% 2006
Life expectancy at birth 69.9 yrs 2016 69.2 yrs 2000
GNI per capita $4770 2017 $2020 2006

*Percentage can exceed 100% due to the inclusion of over and under aged students

** Metric tons per capita

***The World Bank notes that the methodology can vary between countries and over time within a given country. (While much of the World Bank data generally follows understandable trends, this number often oscillates wildly suggesting that different methodologies are frequently used over time within a given country.)

Greatest Sporting Nation Data

Finally, here’s the data from Greatest Sporting Nation on how Iraq performed in the global sporting arena in 2017:

Global Cup – NA

Per Capita Cup – NA

The Global Cup aggregates results from over 1000 events across 80 sports to produce the definitive annual ranking of international sporting success. The Per Capita Cup uses the same data to produce an annual per capita ranking.




About Run the World

I'm running 10 km in every country in the world - a total of 205 countries - by the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. I'm doing the Run the World challenge to promote the benefits of sport and physical activity and to raise money for cancer research following the death of my mother from cancer. If you'd like to donate to Cancer Research - - then I know they'd be very grateful.
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1 Response to Run 159 : Iraq – Baghdad

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