I was visiting northern Iraq (southern Kurdistan) in 2009. Iraq is a fascinating country, if a bit normal, for middle-eastern standards. It feels like Israel.
Flag of Kurdistan
Post-2008 flag of Iraq. (The Pan-Arab three stars were removed.)
Arbil International Airport is small, but has everything an airport needs. In fact it reminded me of a toy airport that someone had made bigger.
The city is located a few miles south-east of the airport, which lies in the middle of what looked to me like a military zone. We passed several checkpoints on the way out (and a week later on the way in).
Sulaimaniyah is a city of 2 million located close to the Iranian border. It was also one of Saddam’s bases located conveniently close to two enemies, Iran and Iraqi Kurds.
There were several checkpoints on the road. Shortly before Kirkuk a Peshmerga lieutenant held us for an hour or so because of some difficulty with the idea that a tourist would travel through the desert armed with nothing but a German ID card. (I had left my passport in the hotel.)