Iraq Hails First Paris-Baghdad Flight as Step Toward End of Sanctions
Iraq on Friday welcomed a first Paris-Baghdad flight since a UN embargo was imposed in 1990 as another step on the long road to lifting sanctions, urging the Arabs to follow suit and restore air links.
A chartered Boeing-737 plane carrying some 60 medical staff and athletes left Paris for Baghdad after France ignored a UN request to delay the departure of what organizers insisted was a humanitarian flight.
The plane of the French company Euralair took off from Paris' Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport at 8:35 a.m. (0635 GMT).
The aim was to show French solidarity with the Iraqi people, "and to show that the air embargo imposed by the United States has no legal existence as such," said organizers of the three-day private mission, dubbed "Zephyr".
An official Iraqi daily, meanwhile, urged Arab countries to restore air links despite the decade-old embargo.
"It is high time for all Arabs and friends of Baghdad to take a courageous stand and resume air links with Iraq," said the newspaper, Al-Iraq, under a headline of "Welcome to the arrivals in Baghdad."
Al-Iraq said a resumption of flights in and out of Iraq would "ease the suffering of Iraqis" by leading to a lifting of the UN sanctions in force since the 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
France, Russia and China insist that no UN resolution bans non-commercial passenger flights to Iraq, but Washington and London say every flight to Iraq needs authorization.
Francois Girard-Hautbout, an official for the shadowy organization behind the flight, the French Office for the Development of Industry and Culture (OFDIC), said French doctors were going to work side-by-side with Iraqi counterparts.
"They are going to do a night shift with emergency staff and they are also scheduled to take part in surgical operations, mainly to do with dental surgery," he said.
French notification was submitted to the UN sanctions commission on Thursday only hours before the flight, which left the committee little time to give its authorization.
Britain's ambassador to the United Nations, Jeremy Greenstock, was unimpressed by the short notice. "We want a proper notification so the committee can meet and take a look at it," he said.
A Russian plane flew oil executives and humanitarian aid to Baghdad on September 17, but with enough notice for a clearance from the sanctions committee.
It was the second Russian plane to land at Baghdad's Saddam International Airport since it reopened on August 17.
Iraqi officials are due to travel to Moscow in a week's time to discuss a resumption of flights with Aeroflot, Russia's biggest airline.
Russian carrier Vnukovo Airlines, meanwhile, plans to fly a 120-strong delegation of European lawmakers and business people to Iraq from Paris on September 29.
And Jordan's Transport Minister Mohammad al-Kalaldeh said on September 9 that Amman had submitted a request to the United Nations to re-establish its air link with Iraq and was awaiting a response.
Iraq, whose own fleet of civilian aircraft have been stranded abroad for the past decade, said this week it could soon resume internal flights and that it was looking to buy 20 Airbus aircraft.
A military cargo plane, converted to passenger use, flew in for the reopening of Baghdad airport.
Founded in April by Girard-Hautbout and Philippe Brett, OFDIC is an obscure group which claims to be faithful to the principles of late French leader Charles de Gaulle and his Arab policy.
It intends to spread French cultural, political and economic influence in countries like Algeria, Iran, Libya, Sudan and Yemen, according to its publicity and claims to have the support of political, business, sporting and cultural figures -- BAGHDAD (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)