Saudi commercial airplane lands in Baghdad, first time in 27 years

A Saudi Arabian airplane has made history by landing in Iraq amid efforts by the regime in Riyadh to restore ties with Baghdad and compensate for almost three decades of diplomatic inaction in the country.

The Iraqi Transport Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday that the Saudi commercial airplane arrived in Baghdad for the first time in 27 years. “Baghdad International Airport today welcomed the first Saudi plane after a 27-year break.”

Iraqi officials said the airplane belonged to Flynas, a Saudi company launched as Nas Air in 2007. The airline, which faces increasing competition inside Saudi Arabia, plans to launch flights to several Iraqi cities in a bid to improve revenues. Saudi Arabia has a sizable population of Shia Muslims in its eastern territories who wish to visit holy shrines in Iraq, a Shia-dominated country.

However, the launch of the flight is apparently in line with Saudi Arabia’s efforts to refurbish its image as a friendly neighbor to Iraq. Many have blamed the Saudis for the protracted militancy that has gripped Iraq for the past years. They say elements in the Saudi kingdom have openly supported militants in Iraq through funds and weapons.

Iraq ordered the expulsion of the Saudi ambassador to Baghdad last year, saying he was clearly interfering in the internal affairs of Iraq. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir then traveled to Baghdad to personally introduce another ambassador.

The two countries also announced in August that the Arar border crossing would be opened for trade for the first time since 1990, when Saudis cut diplomatic ties to Iraq in protest against former dictator Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. Iraqi pilgrims also used the border crossing for the 2017 Hajj rituals in Saudi Arabia.