Kathleen Parker

As winter looms, the savvy traveler begins meditations on spring break and summer vacation. Naturally, I'm torn between springtime in Paris or Baghdad, the world's newest and unlikeliest fun spot for those who like a little adventure mixed with their relaxation.

If you like paintball, you'll love the Green Zone!

Coming soon to a brochure near you is a five-star, 23-story hotel in central Baghdad. In Monday's online edition of The Independent, writer Kim Sengupta reported Iraq's optimistic future in tourism.

With a new constitution under way and more elections down the road, tourism is freedom's inevitable offspring. The tourist board already is a bureaucrat's daydream with a staff of 2,400 and 14 offices. Not bad for a start-up democracy.

Sengupta notes that Iraq already is enjoying a steady increase in travelers - not including foreign suicide bombers who, though they might enjoy a little gam 'n' ale on the eve of their destruction, have not, to our knowledge, demonstrated a strong preference for 600-thread Egyptian cotton sheets.

The tourism upon which Iraq is banking refers mostly to Iraqis themselves, ex-pats returning to visit. And to various foreigners willing to risk life and limb for the extremely high wages paid contractors to build infrastructure, schools and hospitals in Iraq's explosive environment.

With death outside your door and money burning the proverbial hole in your flak jacket pocket, a luxury hotel with a golf range holds vastly greater appeal than a low-interest savings account back home.

Baghdad's hoped-for hotel is being built on land donated by an Iraqi businessman, whose name is being kept under wraps as a security precaution. Among some of the more unusual considerations is building the hotel to withstand mortar and rocket attacks.

Also in the works is a plan to use Saddam Hussein's palaces in Tikrit (his hometown) as a theme park. Dictators in Paradise? A world of Disney with a too-much-fun splash of Hieronymus Bosch, Saddam's former stomping grounds include 18 palaces, 118 other buildings and gardens overlooking the Tigris.

Meanwhile, in that other tourist mecca overlooking another famous river, Paris burns. Looting, burning and assault continue there as "French youth" - who bear an uncanny resemblance to "insurgents" trying to block Iraq's soon-to-boom tourist industry - are enjoying their second week of terrorism against their adoptive compatriots.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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