Missile Damages DHL
Cargo Plane Over Baghdad

By Steve Kirby

BAGHDAD (AFP) - A civilian aircraft belonging to international express courier DHL made an emergency landing in Baghdad Saturday after being hit by a surface-to-air missile in the first successful strike on a plane of the seven-month-old Iraq insurgency.
Nobody was injured in the attack, but it prompted both DHL and Jordanian carrier Royal Wings, the only airline to offer civilian passenger flights into Baghdad, to suspend their services.
"A DHL plane took off from Baghdad airport this morning and was hit by a SAM-7 surface-to-air missile," said a US military official who asked not to be identified.
"It caught fire, it turned around and came back to the airport where it safely landed. The fire was taken out."
Basim al-Waziri, a resident of the southern Yusifiyeh area of the capital, said he saw the missile being fired on the aircraft and hitting its left wing, setting it ablaze.
DHL spokeswoman Patricia Thomson said the Airbus A300 freighter had been flying from Baghdad to the company's Gulf hub in Bahrain when it was forced to return to the Iraqi capital at around 9:30 am (0630 GMT).
"This emergency landing was undertaken successfully. I'm delighted to confirm that all on board escaped any injury," she said in Brussels.
It was the first time that a plane using Baghdad airport had been hit by a missile although eight previous firings had been reported and at least one US military helicopter downed.
All of the previous firings on fixed-wing aircraft had been against military or official planes, not civilian ones, according to the Iraqi transport ministry.
The strike prompted DHL to announce it had halted its flights temporarily while it considered the longer term future of its service. Royal Jordanian, parent company of Royal Wings, announced a longer suspension.
"Certainly for today our operations are suspended and I would imagine for tomorrow also," DHL's spokeswoman said.
"At the moment there are discussions ongoing as to whether we will actually suspend operations (for the long term)," said Thomson. The discussions are "at the most senior level with the relevant aviation authorities."
The formerly US-owned courier, now owned by German giant Deutsche Post, has been operating an average of three flights a day into the Iraqi capital, carrying US government mail and humanitarian aid as well more routine packages and documents.
Royal Jordanian said it was cancelling Royal Wings flights from Amman to Baghdad until at least Wednesday.
"After November 25, the company will decide if it will restart its flights to Baghdad or not," an official said.
Its three-month-old service, which became daily this month, has been open only to journalists, businessmen, aid workers, coalition officials and members of Iraq's US-installed interim Governing Council.
The SA-7, made by Russian firm Strella, has a range of up to 3,200 metres (3,500 yards) and has proved an ideal weapon for insurgents fighting the US-led occupation as it is fired by a single person.
Thousands of them were bought by Saddam Hussein's regime and many fell into civilian hands after the collapse of his armed forces during the spring invasion.
The coalition has set up a buy-back programme in an attempt to get the weapons off the streets but acknowledges that hundreds probably remain in the hands of their foes.
The missile threat has prevented the full reopening of Baghdad airport despite huge interest from international carriers including British Airways, the Netherlands' KLM and Scandinavian firm SAS, as well as regional airlines.
Iraq's interim transport minister Benham Polis told AFP earlier this month that he had asked US civilian administrator Paul Bremer for permission to begin scheduled passenger flights this week.
But in the light of the persistent missile threat, that authorization is likely to continue to be withheld.




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