New airline to launch direct London-Baghdad flights

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The first direct flights between London and Baghdad by a private Iraqi firm will begin next week, a civil aviation official said on Sunday.

The Al-Nasr company of Iraqi businessman Hussein al-Khawam "will fly its first Baghdad-London flight on November 3, but that date is not finalised," said Nasser Hussein Badr, civil aviation director at the transport ministry.

A Boeing 737 leased from a European firm would initially fly the route, he said, without specifying what name the airline would bear.

Flagship carrier Iraqi Airways said in May that the state-owned company would be dissolved after one of its planes was impounded at London's Gatwick Airport in relation to a financial row with Kuwait.

Al-Nasr's announcement came on the same day a plane operated by France's Aigle Azur landed at Baghdad International Airport, becoming the first flight by a European carrier to arrive in the city since a 1990 international embargo on Iraq.

Aigle Azur's twice-weekly Paris-Baghdad flights would begin in mid-January, the airline said.

That flight, and the announcement of the route to London, come at a time when foreign companies are demonstrating a growing desire to grab a share in oil-rich Iraq's post-war reconstruction, following the 2003 US-led invasion.

More than 300 foreign firms are taking part in a 10-day international exhibition that opens in Baghdad on Monday, featuring companies from every sector other than defence.

The interest in aviation and business also indicate the improving security situation in Iraq, where bombs, killings and kidnappings remain routine, but significantly less than a peak in 2006 and 2007.

An Iraqi Airways flight to London in May ended in legal nightmare for the carrier, after Kuwait took court action to reclaim more than 1.0 billion dollars it says it is owed.

Kuwait Airways alleged in court that Iraqi Airways owes it 1.2 billion dollars (900 million euros).

The dispute dates back to executed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, when the airline says 10 of its planes and aircraft parts were plundered after its airport was seized.

A British judge ordered that the Iraqi Airways plane be impounded and the passport of the carrier's chief executive, Kifah Hassan Jabbar, be seized.

Both the plane and the official later returned to Iraq, but the carrier decided to suspend flights to Europe.

Despite that decision, the airline continues to fly routes in the Middle East, Badr said.

The United Nations slapped an embargo on Iraq following as punishment for the Kuwait invasion.

© 2010 AFP

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