The plight of the three American hikers facing espionage charges in Iran might have you wondering: Is it really that easy to accidentally wander into Iran? The answer is yes, but only “if you’re reckless,” writes Juliet Lapidos for Slate’s Explainer column. The Iraqi Kurdistan area they were hiking in is relatively safe, and on the roads there are checkpoints everywhere. They seem to have had opportunities to orient themselves, and probably got warnings about getting too close to the Iraq-Iran border.
But there are no signs, barriers, or natural landmarks to alert the unwary hiker when precisely, they’ve passed into forbidden territory. In general, Iraq’s 900-mile border with Iran is pretty porous, lightly guarded without a steady military presence. Smugglers, spies, and yes, wayward hikers, often cross without incident. But it’s dangerous business, because the area is peppered with land mines left over from the Iran-Iraq war. (Read more Iran stories.)