ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Air India on Thursday resumed flights to Iraq after a 30-year long break, with the first plane carrying Shia pilgrims landing in the city of Najaf.
”This is the first time in the last 30 years” that a plane has come from India to Iraq, said Pradeep Singh Rajpurohit, India's ambassador to Iraq, while marking the event at the Najaf International Airport, according to AFP.
“We are very fortunate that the holy city of Najaf has been chosen as the first destination,” he added, stating the two countries had been in talks for a long time in efforts to restore direct flights between India and Iraq.
Flights between both nations were halted after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, which was followed by sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s regime, as well as ongoing conflict and instability in Iraq after the fall of the authoritarian system.
The first flight on Thursday departed from India’s Lucknow and landed in Iraq’s Najaf, where the Shia pilgrims were welcomed by Iraqi officials.
Every year, Shia Muslim pilgrims from different parts of the world travel to Najaf, some 150 kilometers south of Baghdad, to visit the shrine of Imam Ali, Prophet Mohammed’s son-in-law and founder of Shia Islam.
India has its embassy in Baghdad and a Consulate General in the autonomous Kurdistan Region.
Unofficial statistics suggest there are about 10,000 to 12,000 Indians currently living in Iraq, mostly concentrated in the autonomous Kurdistan Region, Basra, Najaf, and Karbala. Around 30,000 to 40,000 Indians visit Baghdad, Karbala, Najaf, and Samarra for their annual pilgrimage.
Editing by Nadia Riva