Iraq is gradually freeing itself from the shackles of the decade-old UN air embargo and again becoming a trading partner on the international scene, despite continued economic sanctions. No fewer than 16 planes carrying official delegations for Baghdad's International Trade Fair have landed at Saddam International Airport since Tuesday in defiance of the UN air embargo slapped on Iraq since its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
The latest batch of flights, which brings to more than 40 the number to have landed in Baghdad since the airport was reopened in mid-August, has as yet elicited no reaction from Washington, which was quick to slam the first flights organized by France and Russia. British Foreign Office minister, Peter Hain, on Tuesday criticized the stream of solidarity flights, saying they helped keep Saddam Hussein in power.
But Iraqi leaders have never been slow to seize an opportunity to remind countries to break the embargo of possible vested interests in Iraq. "We call on countries from the whole world to re-establish commercial and civil air links with Iraq. Every country that takes such an initiative will have priority in cooperation (with Baghdad)," Iraq's Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan said. "No Security Council resolution forbids civil or commercial flights" to Iraq, he said during the trade fair's opening Wednesday.
The fair has gathered more than 1,500 firms from 45 countries — a record since the sanctions regime was imposed 10 years ago — seeking to seal contracts with Iraq. Foreign businessmen and investors are jostling for position in the Iraqi market, lured by a country of 22 million people with the world's second largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia.
According to Ramadan, "the embargo has deprived the world of Iraqi crude for the equivalent of $140 billion", but production is currently heading towards its pre-1990 level of three million barrels per day (bpd).
Iraq exports more than 2.2 million bpd under the UN-supervised oil-for-food program, initiated in late 1996 to allow Baghdad to sell crude to finance imports of food, medicine and other essential goods including oil industry spare parts.
Jordan's Energy Minister Wael Sabri, who arrived in Baghdad Wednesday with Prime Minister Ali Abu Ragheb and three other ministers, said a major topic in discussions will be the renewal of an oil agreement between the two countries for 2001. "The large participation at the Baghdad fair this year is witness to the determination of the international community to continue its economic and commercial cooperation with Iraq," Jordan's Commerce Minister Wassaf Azer told Thursday's newspapers.
And Syria's Development Minister Hassan Shritah said Thursday Damascus "wanted to develop bilateral cooperation". — (AFP, Baghdad)
© Agence France Presse 2000
By Farouk Choukri
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)