Russian-Built Planes Ready for Iraq's First Domestic Flights in a Decade
Iraqi Airways is to lay on two domestic passenger flights on Sunday through the no-fly zones imposed by the United States and Britain, in Iraq's first such internal flights in almost 10 years.
One flight will head for Basra in southern Iraq and the other for the northern city of Mosul. Two Russian-built planes, an Ilyushin and an Antonov, have been prepared for the flights from Baghdad's Saddam International Airport.
"Aggressive actions will not deter the Iraqis from exercising their right to have air links inside the country and abroad," Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan said, quoted in newspapers Saturday.
Officials at the United Nations have said that Iraqi domestic flights, suspended since the 1991 Gulf War over Kuwait, are legal under UN sanctions.
But a spokesman for the US diplomatic mission in New York said that "for reasons of safety, it would be helpful if Iraq notified the UN about schedules and routes." This would avoid possible incidents in the no-fly zones.
And Washington on Friday warned the increasing number of foreign planes traveling to Baghdad to avoid the zones over northern and southern Iraq, the scenes of almost daily clashes pitting Iraqi air defenses against US and British warplanes.
"We are particularly concerned because of aggressive Iraqi activities south of 33 degrees north latitude and north of 36 degrees north latitude," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, referring to the delineation of the zones.
The resumption of domestic flights follows the reopening on August 17 of Baghdad's Saddam International Airport, which was closed after the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on Iraq for its August 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
Almost 50 foreign planes have since landed in Baghdad despite a UN air embargo. Iraq insists the international sanctions regime does not cover passenger flights, while the UN Security Council is divided on the issue.
Iraqi Airways, grounded for the past 10 years, had a fleet of around 30 planes, which have been stranded in Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Libya and Tunisia. It has been converting military transport planes into civilian aircraft.
Baghdad is looking to buy 20 Airbus planes from the European consortium, according to Iraqi newspapers. It ordered five A-310 passenger jets in 1989, but their delivery has been blocked by the sanctions – BAGHDAD (AFP)
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