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The BBC's Barbara Plett
"French celebrities plan to make a protest flight soon"
 real 28k

Thursday, 17 August, 2000, 18:10 GMT 19:10 UK
Iraq re-opens airport despite sanctions
Saddam International Aiport
Iraq's international airport is ready for regular flights
Iraq has re-opened the international airport in Baghdad -- despite the continuing international sanctions imposed 10 years ago after the invasion of Kuwait.

An Iraqi Airways plane carrying passengers from the west of the country landed at Saddam International Airport to mark the occasion.


We are expecting passenger and cargo planes, big and small, to start landing at the airport shortl

Ahmad Murtada, transport minister
Transport minister Ahmad Murtada criticised the 1991 embargo on commercial flights to Iraq, saying there was no international resolution banning such flights.

Humanitarian flights are exempt from the ban but have to be cleared by the United Nations.

Regular flights

"The airport is now ready for the arrival of all planes from all Arab and international airlines and can offer excellent services," Mr Murtada told reporters.

The minister said several countries and humanitarian organisations friendly to Iraq had expressed interest in using the airport.

Lounge at Baghdad's Saddam International airport
Airport terminals have been refurbished
As a result, he said, "we are expecting passenger and cargo planes, big and small, to start landing at the airport shortly."

But BBC correspondent Barbara Plett says the only arrivals Iraq can expect in the near future are private flights by activists protesting against the embargo.

Private flights are not specifically banned by the embargo.

Planes grounded

Journalists were taken round the airport which has been undergoing repairs to modernise it in readiness for the eventual resumption of air traffic.

Since the 1991 Gulf War, Iraqi Airways has been sending pilots and technicians to Malaysia and Jordan for training.

Its offices in Baghdad have turned into communications centers and stores for ready-made food.

Nearly 30 Iraqi planes are said to have remained grounded for the past 10 years.

Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein (l) with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (r) at Saddam airport
President Chavez (r) became the first head of state to visit Iraq since 1991
Some of the planes were taken for safekeeping to Iran, Jordan and Tunisia shortly before the Gulf War.

Iraq's efforts to bring them back have failed.

Recently, the Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, defied US criticism to become the first head of state to visit Iraq since the sanctions were imposed.

State-run newspapers report that French activists opposed to the UN sanctions on Iraq are planning an embargo-busting flight to Baghdad next month.

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