Iraq is finally spreading its wings — and that newfound freedom is coming from the sky.
Looking over the runway at Baghdad International Airport, one might see the signs of a nation returning to normalcy as a green and white painted Boeing 737 with the name “Iraqi Airways” touches down from a flight only to quickly refuel and carry passengers to Basra. Another flight takes off on the other end — it’s a Turkish Airlines flight heading to Istanbul while a Gulf Air plane taxis after coming in from Dubai.
As demonstrated by the increase in the number of airline flights both domestically and internationally, Iraq is taking the first steps to fly away from the perception of a war-torn nation. Being able to travel freely around the world is something relatively new to Iraqis as flights out of Iraq have not existed since 1990 after sanctions stemming from Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. Very few flights began even after the 2003 U.S. invasion because of heavy fighting.
Flights serve various Iraqi cities, including Baghdad, Najaf, Mosul, Basra and Erbil. Carriers including Austrian Airlines, Middle East Airlines and Bahrain Air connect Iraqis to international cities such as Cairo, Beirut, Damascus, Tehran and Vienna, thereby allowing Iraqi citizens to freely travel and leave their country legally.
Turkish Airlines Chief Executive Temel Kotil called Iraq a “good market” in an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Jan. 27 while Iraqi Airways spokesperson Abir Burhan said “anything that connects Iraq to the rest of the world is good for the carrier and the country as a whole.” Other airlines such as Lufthansa and Qatar Airways are seriously thinking about beginning flights to Iraq as well.
One might begin to wonder if it safe to have commercial airlines flying from, and over, Iraq? Isn’t there a security threat? The quick answer to this is yes, but the threat level is manageable enough to fly relatively safely. Arriving flights do not stay at the airport for long before taking off in order to minimize time for rocket attacks and other threats. The airport control towers are not as modern as control towers in other nations, but the government is also trying to invest more money in modernizing its airport facilities.
The real reason why the Iraqi government is willing to take the risk in starting commercial flights to and from Iraq is because international travel is considered to be a sign of a normalcy — an indicator of a nation well connected to the rest of the world. By being accessible to foreign travelers, Iraq can bring in more foreign investors who see Iraq as an untapped market for various products and services. By having more investors in Iraq, the nation will begin to build its infrastructure and take a big step in becoming not only a functional nation but a successful one.
Some critics allege the government is taking a risk in inviting international carriers to Iraq. They argue that the competition for customers between international airlines will drive them away from flying on the national carrier, Iraqi Airways, thus decreasing profits to a government that desperately needs alternative sources of revenue. The threat to profits is especially potent when competing with low budget airlines that are springing up throughout the Middle East.
The greater risk involved in allowing international carriers to fly is the threat of a terrorist attack against a plane or airport.
As mentioned above, the government seems to believe it can handle the security threat by being more vigilant A terrorist strike, however, would be a huge blow to Iraq’s chances of foreign investment and travel as foreign companies would not consider Iraq a nation ready for stable economic growth. This notion would delay further revenue for the government and push the nation farther back into international economic isolation.
Despite the threats involved in inviting international carriers to Iraq, the Iraqi government is doing the right thing by taking this necessary step toward modernizing the nation. The government considers itself to be capable enough to handle the security issues inherent in air travel, and a stable security record could legitimize the government in the eyes of both the Iraqi people and foreign investors.
Iraq is flying its way out of misery and into a land of progress and modernization.
Let’s hope it sticks to the flight plan.
Angad Singh is a sophomore majoring in international relations.