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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Saudi carrier flynas launches first direct flight to Iraq in 27 years

It marks another move by Saudi Arabia to improve ties with its neighbour in an attempt to blunt rival Iran's vast influence there

A flynas plane at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh. The carrier is mulling a major plane order. Fayez Nureldine / AFP
A flynas plane at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh. The carrier is mulling a major plane order. Fayez Nureldine / AFP

Saudi budget carrier flynas on Wednesday launched the first direct flight between the kingdom and Iraq since the Gulf War 27 years ago.

It marks another move by Saudi Arabia to improve ties with its neighbour in an attempt to blunt rival Iran's vast influence there.

The carrier tweeted video of the inaugural flight arriving at Baghdad International Airport, as well as an image of the crew on board the plane, which took off from Riyadh just before noon.

"We worked hard to see that flynas flights to the brotherly nation of Iraq are operational as quickly as possible in order to connect the two brotherly nations economically and socially after a 27-year-long break," flynas CEO Bandar Al Muhanna said.

Saudi Arabia's national carrier, Saudia, is scheduled to make its inaugural flight to Baghdad on Thursday, Abbas Al Khafaji, the media director for Iraq's civil aviation authority, told The Associated Press.

The flights are the latest sign of improved relations between the two countries.

A number of high-profile Iraqis have visited Saudi Arabia in recent months, including a rare visit in July by influential Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr.

Saudi Arabia also plans to open a border crossing with Iraq, which has been closed since Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait in 1990 with the exception of some Iraqi pilgrims who have entered the kingdom for Hajj.

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Read more:

Moqtada Al Sadr meets Iraqi Sunni cleric in the UAE

Editorial: Sadr visit underscores the emerging Saudi foreign policy doctrine

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Riyadh, which opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, has long been anxious about Iran's footprint in Shiite-majority Iraq and its network of allied militias there.

Saudi Arabia has consistently described Iraq as an Arab nation to differentiate it from mainly Shiite but non-Arab Iran.

The kingdom is also looking to Iraq as a potential trading partner and as a major investment opportunity amid reconstruction efforts in cities like Mosul, which were devastated by the war against ISIL.