Iraq defies U.N. with pilgrim flight to Saudi Arabia
April 9, 1997
Web posted at: 1:09 p.m. EDT (1709 GMT)
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(CNN) -- An Iraqi plane flying Muslims to the haj pilgrimage
in defiance of a United Nations air embargo on Baghdad landed
on Wednesday at Jeddah airport in Saudi Arabia, Saudi
Earlier in the day, reporters in Baghdad saw the Soviet-built
Ilyushin 76 take off from Rasheed airbase in the eastern
outskirts of the Iraqi capital on its way to Jeddah.
Diplomats in the kingdom say Saudi Arabia as custodian of
Islam's two holiest shrines cannot be seen as denying any
Muslim with a valid haj visa the right to perform the
pilgrimage, which reaches a climax this year on April 16.
Up to 2 million Muslims, half of them from abroad, perform
haj every year to the holy city of Mecca.
Sanctions to punish Iraq
The pilgrims traveling to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday were on the
first international flight dispatched by Iraqi leader Saddam
Hussein since the U.N. Security Council banned flights in and
out of the country after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
The U.N. sanctions also prevent Iraq from marketing its oil,
except under a special oil-for-food program.
The U.N. Security Council has said that the sanctions will
not be lifted until Iraq complies with Gulf War resolutions
demanding the elimination of all the country's weapons of
The U.N. Special Commission, charged with monitoring the
sanctions, says that Iraq is still withholding information
about its chemical and biological weapons programs.
104 pilgrims on plane
Of the 104 pilgrims on Wednesday's flight, 40 were women and
all were over 50 years old.
Some said they were sick and could not stand the hardship of
the 2,000 km (1,250 miles) land journey to Saudi Arabia.
Senior Iraqi officials, including two ministers, took part in
a farewell ceremony before the pilgrims took off.
Not the first time
Wednesday's flight was the second pilgrim plane the kingdom has
allowed to land this year in violation of U.N. sanctions.
A Libyan plane carrying pilgrims landed in Jeddah on March
29. It was the third such flight since 1995 by Libya in
defiance of U.N. sanctions connected with the 1988 bombing of
a Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland.
Saudi officials had said Riyadh did "what it had to do" by
allowing the first Libyan pilgrim plane to land in 1995.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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