Baghdad airport to reopen today

BAGHDAD (AFP) — Iraqi Airways officials said flights would resume early Monday from Baghdad International Airport following a two-day shutdown caused by a commercial dispute with a private security company.
The first Iraqi Airways flight would leave at 9:30am (0530 GMT) for Amman and Damascus, a reservations official and company director Adil Ali told AFP.

London-based Global Strategies Group, which ensures security at the airport, would resume work Sunday evening, regional director Paul Simington told AFP.

“We don’t want to disrupt the situation any more than we have,” he said.

Commercial traffic at the airport was halted as Global Strategies pressed Iraqi officials for several months’ worth of pay the group said was owed to it.

Company staff failed to turn up for work Saturday as the group turned up the heat on Iraqi transport ministry officials to resolve the dispute. “They kept passing and passing and passing and we finally felt we had no choice but to make a point,” Simington said.

Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari and President Jalal Talabani had travelled abroad in the past few days but Global’s director insisted the timing was fortuitous.

Part of the problem, he explained, was that Iraqi Transport Minister Salam Al Maliki was apparently not informed of the dispute.

“He was pretty much unaware of what was going on,” Simington said.

An aide to Maliki told AFP Sunday: “The minister is now in Najaf (south of Baghdad) and unreachable, we know nothing about this problem at the airport.”

Five white buses waited empty outside the airport perimeter, and a driver said they had been sent to pick up transport ministry workers who were stuck in Amman.

Simington rejected reports the security group had demanded a hefty bonus to resume work, saying: “That statement is just completely false, and I’m kind of surprised to hear that. We’ve worked with no contract since November of last year.” The group successfully bid on a new tender in April, he added. “We have written formal acceptance of this,” but nonetheless, “we’re working without payment and without a contract.”

The strike took US troops by surprise but 18th Airborne paratroopers manned perimeter positions as early as Friday, turning back those who arrived for commercial flights.

While declining to comment on the dispute, the troops reported sporadic skirmishes Sunday with unidentified gunmen in palm groves a few hundred metres from the main checkpoint.

About a half dozen trucks, minibuses and cars also stood in the sweltering heat as officials searched for a solution.

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