Nowruz, the pre-Islamic Persian New Year holiday celebrated in Iran, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and other regional communities is set to begin on Wednesday, March 21. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has proclaimed a four-day holiday. Traditionally, the public holiday also lasts four days in Iran, though festivities may continue for up to two weeks. A heightened security presence may be observed around large gatherings, and commercial and traffic disruptions are expected in areas celebrating the holiday.
Nowruz is annually celebrated in Farsi-speaking countries - including Afghanistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, and parts of Pakistan and Iraq - and in associated diaspora and some Kurdish communities on March 21. It is a 13-day celebration that involves dinners, family visits, and recitations of poetry. Some cities also host festivals in the streets.
In Iraq, the holiday will reportedly see a deployment of Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)-Peshmerga forces to the city of Kirkuk, to provide additional security. The city has been a subject of dispute between the KRG - dominated by a different Kurdish party than the PUK - and Baghdad, but the situation has calmed after the federal government wrested control of it back from the KRG. The city suffered an Islamic State (IS) attack on February 18 which killed at least 20 members of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) paramilitaries; IS may launch attacks in Kirkuk and other cities in Iraqi Kurdistan on Nowruz gatherings and festivities, which the group derides as un-Islamic.
The security environment in Iraq remains complex. Although travel is possible in some areas with proper security protocols in place, other areas should be considered strictly off-limits. Professional security advice and support should be sought prior to all travel.
In Iran, increased security and travel disruptions should be anticipated in Tehran and other major cities during Nowruz celebrations. Individuals present in the country should remain vigilant and report any suspicious objects or behavior to the authorities. Always be on guard when visiting sites deemed particularly likely to be targeted in an attack (public transportation, train stations, ports, airports, public or government buildings, embassies or consulates, international organizations, schools and universities, religious sites, markets, hotels and restaurants frequented by foreigners/Westerners, festivals, etc.). Travelers should note that some Western governments advise their citizens against nonessential travel to certain areas of the country, including zones adjacent to the Afghan, Pakistani, and Iraqi borders.