Gulf Air to restore Iran, Iraq flights this autumn

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Gulf Air has received approval from the Bahraini government to restore flights to Iran and Iraq - two key markets which were withdrawn from its route network following last year's pan-Arab civil unrest.

Flights to Baghdad, Erbil, Najaf and Basra in Iraq and Tehran, Mashhad, Shiraz and Isfahan in Iran will progressively be reintroduced between 20 September and 28 October 2012.

Iran and Iraq had been two of Gulf Air's largest markets prior to the suspension of services in March 2011, and the flag carrier has blamed its recent weak performance at least partly on the government's order to halt all operations in the two countries.

Bahraini authorities gave the edict due to fears that Shi'ite factions in Iran and Iraq were seeking to foment civil unrest in the kingdom, which is also a Shi'ite majority country but is ruled by a Sunni minority.

"We had to suspend the flights in 2011 due to unavoidable circumstances," notes Gulf Air chief executive Samer Majali in a statement. "I am glad the time has come [to restore services] and we look forward to the same support from our customers."

Gulf Air also withdrew flights to Lebanon last year, though they were promptly resurrected in June 2011.

Over the summer, parliamentarians blocked a 664-million dinar ($1.76 billion) bailout package for the airline, prompting speculation that it could be grounded. But in July owner Mumtalakat, Bahrain's sovereign wealth fund, reaffirmed its support for the flag carrier.