Baghdad airport reopens despite embargo
Baghdad's Saddam International Airport officially reopened Thursday, 10 years after it was closed because of sanctions imposed on Iraq following its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
An Iraqi military transport plane crowned the ceremony by landing on the renovated runway after a 90-minute symbolic flight from western Iraq, as the transport minister said the airport was ready for the arrival of any plane.
"The airport is now ready for the arrival of all planes from all Arab and international airlines and can offer excellent services," Ahmad Murtada told reporters gathered on the concrete.
Murtada slammed the embargo that "has prevented Iraqi citizens from using the airport for 10 years. There is no international resolution banning flights to Iraq. It is a US-British-Zionist decision that is neither lawful, humane nor fair."
The minister added that "several friendly countries and humanitarian organisations had informed us of wanting to fly into Saddam International Airport." "We are expecting passenger and cargo planes, big and small, to start landing at the airport shortly," he said.
But the only business the airport will have for the foreseeable future is likely to be limited to the arrival of private flights from abroad, which are not specifically banned by the embargo imposed on Iraq a decade ago.
There is still an embargo on commercial flights.
Iraq's transport ministry has been repairing the airport to modernise it to handle the eventual resumption of air traffic halted since the 1991 Gulf War.
Iraqi Airways, grounded since 1990, has been sending pilots and technicians to Malaysia and Jordan to train on planes built by the European consortium Airbus.
Its fleet of some 30 planes, meanwhile, is stranded in Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Libya and Tunisia. Russia is studying the possibility of resuming flights to Iraq "by the end of the year" in exchange for a commitment from Baghdad to implement UN Security Council resolutions.
Iraq, backed by France, argues that non-commercial passenger flights to and from Iraq are not specifically banned under the decade-old embargo.
Around 150 French celebrities are due to make a dramatic call for the end to sanctions by breaking the air embargo over the country with a Paris-Baghdad flight on September 29.
In April, an Italian pilot flew a sanctions-busting mercy flight to Iraq with two other Italians and a French priest in a gesture of solidarity with the Iraqi people.
Several planes have landed in Iraq since 1990, but the Italian flight was the first international one without UN authorisation.
Iraqi planes transporting Muslim pilgrims to Mecca broke the embargo in 1999, but the United Nations soon after authorised the flights.
© Agence France Presse 2000
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)