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Emirates to start flights to Iraq in July

DUBAI, May 10 (Reuters) - Dubai's Emirates airline will start flights to Iraq in July, it said on Monday, as it looks to benefit from increasing traffic on the back of reconstruction efforts in the war-torn nation. The Arab world's biggest carrier, which has not flown to the country before, said in a statement the destination is one of six it plans to launch this year. Overall violence in Iraq has fallen sharply since the height of sectarian warfare in 2006-07, although the March 7 election that produced no clear winner has fuelled tensions, and more airlines are opening routes. Flights from Baghdad to other Middle Eastern destinations have jumped in recent years, and airlines have slowly begun opening up direct routes to European destinations. "Iraq is well on the road to recovery and we are confident that the time is right to commence our operations there," Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed al-Maktoum, Emirates' chairman and chief executive, said in a statement. "There is a high proportion of traffic heading both in and out of Iraq and we are in the right position to capitalise on this demand," he added. Some Middle Eastern airlines have already ventured into Iraq while others plan flight launches soon. Qatar Airways said earlier this month it planned to expand into Iraq when it takes delivery of more aircraft and obtains the right to fly to Irbil, Najaf and Baghdad. Kareem Murad, lead analyst for logistics and transportation at Shuaa Capital in Dubai, said he saw airlines' increasing interest in launching and re-launching flights to Iraq as a normal step. "Iraq is a standard route, which needs coverage," said Murad. "Airlines used to fly to Iraq and the route was profitable. I'm sure they secured flights, but if any security issues jeopardise the flights that will prevail." Emirates will start with three flights a week to Baghdad by a Airbus A330-200 aircraft. A large portion of passengers are expected to be industry and government personnel, with the construction, telecommunications and oil sectors likely to be the largest industry users, the carrier said. It also expects to carry 10-12 tonnes of cargo per flight. "We will be importing various commodities into Iraq as the country continues its reconstruction... from all corners of the world," said Ram Menen, Emirates' senior divisional VP of cargo. The carrier is launching flights to Tokyo, Amsterdam, Prague, Madrid and Dakar this year. (Reporting by Tamara Walid; editing by Simon Jessop) Keywords: EMIRATES/IRAQ (tamara.walid@thomsonreuters.com; +971 4 391 8301; Reuters Messaging: tamara.walid.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net) COPYRIGHT Copyright Thomson Reuters 2010. All rights reserved.

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