Despite ban, Iraqis find flight to Jordan a breeze

September 27, 1990|By Robert Ruby | Robert Ruby,Sun Staff Correspondent

AMMAN, Jordan -- If the United Nations air embargo against Iraq was intended to stop air traffic into and out of Baghdad, the crew of the Iraqi Airways passenger jet that landed yesterday at Amman's airport was never told.

"No special instructions, no change from routine," said the flight engineer of Iraqi Airways Flight 164, a Boeing 707 that arrived from Baghdad at midmorning with every seat filled. "I did this route a month ago and it was exactly the same."

Before taking off from Iraq, the engineer said, the crew had its regular briefing about weather conditions and the aircraft's weight and fuel, but nothing more. Not a word about the plane being subject to inspection for cargo not authorized by the United Nations. Not a word about the U.N. Security Council resolution giving other states authority to seize Iraqi aircraft and prevent them from flying home.

Flight 164 may have been one of the last from Baghdad to anywhere, depending on how Jordan and other countries interpret the Security Council resolution approved Tuesday prohibiting most air links with Iraq.

Reacting to the U.N. action, Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, Abdul al-Anbari, called the air embargo "an act of war." The official Iraqi News Agency charged that the Soviet Union, formerly a close ally, had been bribed by the United States and Persian Gulf sheiks.

When Flight 164 arrived, Jordanian authorities were unsure whether the air embargo banned passenger flights, banned only cargo flights or merely required an inspection of whatever cargo an aircraft carried. Authorities were still unsure 90 minutes later, when Flight 164 was refueled, loaded with passengers and their luggage, and allowed to return to Baghdad.

Jordan's foreign minister, Marwan Qassim, said at the United Nations that Jordan would comply with the Security Council resolution, but he did not say what he thought the resolution required.

Whatever the intentions of the Security Council, authorities here handled Flight 164 and a second Iraqi Airways flight just as they would have any other day.

Both planes were parked some distance from the terminal, as has been regular practice for several years. Departing passengers were asked to point out their luggage on the tarmac before it was loaded onto the plane. And the aircraft roared down the runway without interference from the United Nations or anyone else.

On Tuesday, members of the Security Council voted 14-1 in favor of a resolution that orders states to refuse permission for any aircraft going to or from Iraq or Kuwait to fly over their territories unless the aircraft landed for an inspection of its cargo.

Unless the cargo was medicine and food whose delivery was approved by the Security Council, the plane could be seized. Council members prohibited shooting down any such planes and left the enforcement system to be devised by each state on its own.

The Security Council members voted for the air embargo in order to close the last major gap in the trade sanctions intended to force Iraq to loosen its hold on Kuwait. Within a week of Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait, the council approved a land and sea blockade to stop Iraqi exports of oil and large-scale imports of arms and food.

Jordan has been the weakest link in the blockade. Economically dependent on Iraq, Jordan has continued buying Iraqi oil and has allowed trucks carrying food to make the 600-mile trip between Amman and Baghdad.

Amman also has been Iraq's opening to the world by air. Since Aug. 2, Iraqi Airways' scheduled international passenger service has been limited to two to three daily flights to Amman. On the first full day the embargo was in force, it had no observable effect.

Two morning flights and one afternoon flight were scheduled for yesterday, two of which eventually arrived. Each plane landed about an hour behind schedule.

Iraqi Airways gave no explanation for the canceled flight but kept its total passenger load roughly the same by substituting a larger aircraft, a Boeing 747, for the second flight.

The passengers arriving from Baghdad were a mixture of Iraqis, Indians, Egyptians, Jordanians, Western journalists and diplomats. Without exception, they said that the procedures at Saddam Hussein International Airport in Baghdad were no better and no worse than at other times.

"I was checked four times," said Jan Janonius, first secretary at the Swedish Embassy in Iraq. "They wanted to make sure I was not a diplomat from Kuwait. But they were polite."

Most of the passengers leaving for Baghdad were Arab students or Iraqis traveling to join their families at home.

"I will be happy to go back to Baghdad," said Jiryes Madhanat, 20, a Jordanian who said he was studying English there. "I trust Saddam Hussein, that he will do the best for Iraqis and Jordanians."

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