- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 29, 2003

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s national carrier, hard hit by two wars and 13 years of U.N. sanctions, is preparing to resume service after a three-month hiatus, its management said yesterday.

In an announcement to employees, Iraqi Airways officials said the once-profitable company was working with the U.S.-led coalition to begin flying again.

The statement said the U.S.-led Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance was working to complete the technical preparations that would enable flights to resume.

“After that Iraqi Airways flights will resume, but this will take some time,” said the statement, from manager of flight operations Halid Quaisee.

On Wednesday, the United Nations committee monitoring sanctions against Iraq announced that flight restrictions in place since 1990 had been removed after the Security Council’s decision last week to lift the sanctions.

The state-owned airline has been grounded since the start of the U.S.-led coalition offensive against Iraq in March.

Several of its jetliners, maintenance facilities and offices at Baghdad International Airport — formerly known as Saddam International Airport — are said to have been damaged or destroyed in the fighting. Other aircraft remain parked at airports in Syria and Jordan.

Iraqi Airways’ head office at the airport was taken over by the U.S. military in April, and the main terminal is still used as a makeshift barracks.

U.S. officials have not said when they will hand over the airport, or those in Basra and Mosul, to civilian aviation authorities.

The fortunes of Iraqi Airways declined steadily over the past two decades, and it was not clear how soon it would be ready to fly again.

“Nobody seems to be in charge anymore,” said Hassan Dixon, a flight engineer who reported for work at a downtown building that used to house the airline’s staff club. “We have no instructions from management.”

In the 1970s, the state-owned airline was considered one of the fastest-growing in the Middle East. Its aircraft — with their distinctive green-and-white paint scheme — included Boeing 707s, 727s and 747s and Russian-built Il-76 cargo jets.

That expansion ended with the start of the Iraq-Iran war in 1980.

Just before the 1991 Persian Gulf war, the airline’s 15 Boeings were flown to Jordan, Iran and Tunisia. The airline has not been able to retrieve all of them, and Baghdad said Iran’s national carrier put some of those planes into its own fleet.

Iraqi Airways was grounded for several years after the war because of U.N. sanctions that made procuring spare parts impossible. The company’s in-flight catering department sold meals at Baghdad supermarkets to raise money.

The airline resumed limited domestic service in the mid-1990s when spare parts again became available under the oil-for-food program. Flights linked Baghdad with Mosul and Basra, but they were again suspended in March as the latest conflict began.

Pilots say the airline has 23 passenger and cargo jets. Eight remain at Baghdad airport, two were severely damaged in the fighting and have been written off, and 15 are parked abroad.

Airlines in other countries that endured international isolation have found it difficult to regain market share and re-establish flight networks.

In the former Yugoslavia, which spent eight years under U.N. sanctions before the 2000 ouster of President Slobodan Milosevic, the national flag carrier Yugoslav Airlines has shed two-thirds of its fleet and laid off most of its workers in a desperate effort to remain solvent.

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