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Air India Restores Direct Flights To Iraq After 30-Year Gap

Air India has resumed service to Iraq for the first time in 30 years, with the initial flight carrying Shi'ite pilgrims landing on February 14 in the shrine city of Najaf.

Pradeep Singh Rajpurohit, India's ambassador to Baghdad, said, "This is the first time in the last 30 years" that a plane had arrived in Iraq from India.

"We are very fortunate that the holy city of Najaf has been chosen as the first destination," he said, adding that the effort to restore direct links had long been in the works.

The plane took off from Lucknow, the capital of India's Uttar Pradesh state. As it landed, the crew and pilgrims were welcomed by Iraqi officials.

Najaf, some 150 kilometers south of Baghdad, hosts the tomb of Imam Ali, Prophet Muhammad's son-in-law and founder of Shi'ite Islam.

Years of conflict and sanctions during Saddam Hussein's rule and unrest and instability afterward prevented airlines from offering service to Iraq, and many have not yet resumed operations there.

Based on reporting by AFP and NDTV