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The BBC's Barbara Plett
"Oil revenue is the real issue for Iraq"
 real 56k

Saturday, 2 December, 2000, 18:55 GMT
Iraq greets European flight
The European delegation arrives in Iraq from Paris
The European delegation arrives from Paris
By Barbara Plett in Baghdad

Iraq has welcomed another international flight into the country, in a further challenge to United Nations sanctions.

This time, the arrivals were 115 European politicians, clergymen and representatives of aid organisations.

Iraqi woman
The sanctions have hit ordinary Iraqis hard
They touched down at Baghdad airport on board a French airliner, which had flown from Paris.

Among the passengers was the former French foreign minister, Claude Cheysson.

Optimistic

Encouraged by a series of such flights over the past couple of months, Baghdad is increasing efforts to loosen the UN's grip on its oil income.

Western diplomats and experts say Iraq's gains so far are symbolic and will not affect core sanctions.

The sight of planes touching down at Saddam International Airport has encouraged many Iraqis grasping at any sign that their decade of misery may be ending.

UAE delegation at the Baghdad International Trade Fair
The UAE sent a delegation to the Baghdad International Trade Fair
One Iraqi student said the show of support from French, Russian and Arab flights has made him optimistic.

More and more companies appear to think the same thing.

The turnout at the Baghdad International Trade Fair last month was unprecedented under the embargo.

Weapons inspections

Many Iraqis say there must be a reason why all this is happening now.

Surely change is around the corner: that is certainly the line they are getting from the government.

Officials in Baghdad are convinced they have shaken off a decade of international isolation and are now determined to go for the core of the sanctions - regaining control of Iraq's oil wells.

Baghdad's suspension of oil exports over a pricing dispute with the UN is its biggest challenge to the embargo in the past couple of years.

Observers warned, though, that Iraq might be over-confident.

The sanctions can only be lifted by a UN Security Council decision.

But even Baghdad's friends on the Council say it should allow the weapons inspections it is trying to avoid to resume.

Some ordinary Iraqis also say the sudden interest in their country is more about show than substance.

"What good have these flights done me?" said one. "Nothing will improve unless we can spend our own money again."

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See also:

02 Dec 00 | Middle East
US counters Iraq oil move
01 Dec 00 | Middle East
Eyewitness: Bitter legacy of sanctions
04 Nov 00 | Middle East
Brisk business at Iraq trade fair
26 Sep 00 | Country profiles
Country profile: Iraq
01 Nov 00 | Middle East
Jordan gives Iraq diplomatic boost
30 Nov 00 | Middle East
Iraq rejects new arms inspectors
18 Aug 00 | Middle East
UN panel: 'Iraq sanctions must go'
01 Dec 00 | Business
Oil: The Iraq factor
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