At present, Iraq-bound travellers must hop to one of a handful of capitals, most commonly Amman or Dubai, before flying on to Baghdad, but a British-Iraqi working group is exploring the possibility of re-launching direct flights between the two countries.
“I give full permission [for flights to resume] from the Iraqi side and I wait the answer from the British side,” Amer AbdulJabbar Ismail, the Iraqi Transport Minister, told The Times yesterday in an interview at his Baghdad office.
“I am expecting within the month to get the permission.” Over the past week, Iraq revived routes to Athens, Stockholm and Copenhagen. The Transport Ministry is also in talks with the German and Indian aviation authorities to start flights between Frankfurt and Baghdad as well as to Bombay.
Daily flights resumed between Baghdad and Amman in 2004. There are also regular planes shuttling back and forth to Tehran, Beirut, Dubai and Istanbul. Further in the future, Iraq hopes to run flights to the US city of Detroit.
Mr Ismail said it was important to restart the London route because Britain is an important country and many Iraqis reside there.
In addition, “Britain took part in liberating Iraq, now they want to invest in Basra therefore we are encouraged to talk to Britain”, he said, speaking in English.
Further enhancing ties between the two countries, Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, is planning a trip to London towards the end of the month to meet with Gordon Brown and to attend a conference on investment in Iraq. It will be the first visit to London by Mr Maliki since February 2008, when he came for a second round of medical tests. Medical matters are not on the cards this time.
The Transport Minister will be among a group of about 10 ministers travelling with Mr Maliki. He hopes to use the trip to seal the deal to revive the London-Baghdad route. Iraqi Airways, the national carrier, is geared up to make the trip, while it will also be open to any other international airline flying out of London.
UN sanctions imposed on the former regime of Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait in 1990 included a ban on all flights going to and from Iraq. Departure and arrival boards, listing flights to destinations such as London, Tokyo and Moscow, stood frozen in time until a year after the 2003 invasion when the airport was reopened to the public.
New flights were slow to materialise, however, because of the insurgency that raged in the following years. The few commercial planes that used Baghdad airport had to perform corkscrew take-offs and landings to limit the risk of being hit by a surface-to-air missile or rocket propelled grenade.
A drop in the violence since 2007 has been matched by an increase in destinations accessible from Iraq. British planes have been able to fly over the country since last month in a sign of this renewed confidence.
In a further indication of normality returning, the flight information boards at Baghdad International Airport flicked back to life earlier this week, once again displaying flight destinations, departure times and arrival times.“I feel very happy,” the Transport Minister said.