Iraqi Airways route expansion to focus on Europe, China

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Iraqi Airways director general Saad Al-Khafaji has outlined details of the flag carrier's upcoming network expansion, which has been made possible by its reconciliation with Kuwait Airways.

Flights to Frankfurt will get underway in about a fortnight, he says, while Copenhagen and Amsterdam are being targeted shortly after. In Asia, the airline has its sights set on Kuala Lumpur, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Bangkok.

Washington and New York could also be added soon, says Al-Khafaji. He credits the US embassy in Baghdad with "helping to speed up the process" of launching flights to America.

Iraqi Airways had been blocked from adding new destinations and renewing its fleet in recent years due to legal action by Kuwait's flag carrier, which was seeking compensation for Saddam Hussein's alleged theft of 10 aircraft in 1990.

The long-running dispute was settled late last year, paving the way for Iraq's flag carrier to resume flying to Kuwait and London after a 23-year absence. Its outbound Baghdad-London service includes a stopover in Malmo, Sweden for extra security checks.

Al-Khafaji says that while Iraqi Airways wants to fly to "all the major capitals in Europe", its new destinations will be added "one at a time". Once Frankfurt, Copenhagen and Amsterdam are operational, the airline will look at Paris and either Madrid or Rome.

Efforts to remove Iraq from Chapter Seven UN sanctions - which complicate visa applications for Iraqi citizens - will be critical to growing the European network. "If this issue is resolved, our visas will be very easy to get," Al-Khafaji says.

Growth of the Asian network will initially centre on Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, following the dissolution of a joint venture between Iraqi Airways and AirAsia.

"We are trying to go to the East, to Kuala Lumpur. We started a joint venture with AirAsia a few months ago, and now we want to do it on our own," he confirms. "We'd like to start our route to Beijing, as we used to fly there before. We'll also start flying to Guangzhou in China. And we're aiming for Bangkok and Shanghai in the near future."

Alongside its new London Gatwick services, Iraqi Airways currently serves 12 destinations spread across the Middle East, North Africa, central Asia and India. It has bases in Baghdad, Najaf, Basra, Erbil and Sulaymaniyah.