Russia on Saturday kept up the flow of flights into Baghdad, a day after a French plane landed in the Iraqi capital, in defiance of the US hard line on decade-old UN sanctions.
A Tupolev 154 owned by the Russian Vnukovo Airlines landed at Saddam International Airport carrying five tons of medical supplies and a 100-member delegation of Russian oil officials, MPs, a football team, and a Russian music group.
It was the third such flight from Russia, which supports a lifting of sanctions and has oil deals in the pipeline with Iraq, since the airport reopened on August 17.
The delegation was to spend three days in Iraq, during which the Torpedo-ZIL football team was to play a friendly match.
"The main aim of this trip is to ease the criminal sanctions imposed on Iraq and which are killing an entire people," Central Fuel Company chief, Yuri Shafrannik, the delegation leader, told reporters.
Iraq's health ministry, meanwhile, said the sanctions cost more than 10,000 lives in August alone.
With the air embargo on Baghdad falling apart, Vnukovo Airlines also plans to fly a 120-strong delegation of European lawmakers and business people to Iraq from Paris on September 29.
Russian planes already flew to Baghdad on September 17 and for the opening of the airport a month earlier, and Moscow had notified the UN sanctions committee overseeing the embargo against Iraq that it planned a third flight.
The sanctions committee, chaired by the Netherlands and including the 15 Security Council members, said it had not made any formal objection to this latest flight.
But a similar mission from France on Friday provoked anger from the US State Department, which accused Paris of violating a UN air traffic embargo under sanctions imposed for Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
France has "allowed a flight to Iraq in blatant violation of UN sanctions resolutions," charged State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. "The flight was done in clear defiance of the UN and its established procedures."
The French plane, a chartered Boeing-737-800 was carrying a 75-member delegation which included some 30 medical staff and 40 young French sports figures and artists.
The aircraft defied a sanctions committee request to delay the departure of what organizers insisted was a humanitarian flight. It was the first flight from France to Iraq in a decade.
France has joined Russia and China in a divided UN Security Council, arguing that the sanctions should be ended.
Britain and the United States insist the terms of UN resolutions mean an air embargo is in force against Iraq. But France, Russia and China argue that non-commercial passenger flights to Baghdad are not covered by the ban.
French ambassador to the United Nations Jean-David Levitte responded to critics by saying Paris had fulfilled its only obligation by serving advance notification.
After an Iraqi call for Arab states to follow the example of Russia and France, Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan voiced regret that Arab countries were slow off the mark to send planes.
"One of the things that make us feel deeply sorry about the Arab attitude on the issue of flights to Iraq is that the first ... plane to land here was not an Arab plane. It's really a regrettable thing," he told reporters.
Jordanian newspapers, meanwhile, urged regional countries to "break" the air embargo.
"It is a shame that the planes which have begun to land in Iraq don't include one Arab flight," the daily Al-Dustour said. "Where are the Arab planes?"
Jordan has submitted a request to the United Nations to resume air links with Iraq, while Syria's official Ath-Thawra newspaper on Saturday also praised the "courageous" French flight -- BAGHDAD (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )