Anne-Marie Idrac, France's trade minister, arrived in Baghdad on the inaugural flight [AFP]

A French airliner has landed at Baghdad International Airport, becoming one of the first passenger planes to fly into the Iraqi capital direct from western Europe in 20 years.

France's Aigle Azur Airbus A319 landed in Baghdad on Sunday after taking off from Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport five hours earlier.

Anne-Marie Idrac, the French foreign trade minister, and 40 French businessmen were on board the flight.

Air France previously operated commercial flights between the two capitals, which were suspended after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990.

Some carriers, such as Austrian Airlines, fly from western Europe to the Kurdish city of Irbil. Regional airlines such as the Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways, Bahrain's Gulf Air, the Beirut-based MEA airline and Turkish Airlines fly to the Iraqi capital.

But there are no direct passenger flights between Baghdad and western Europe. Stockholm-based Nordic Airways launched commercial flights to Baghdad from Copenhagen, Denmark, in January 2009 but its operating license was revoked later that month

Boost trade

Boris Boillon, France's ambassador to Iraq, said: "This is an historic event because this is the first scheduled direct service by a European airline between a Western capital and Baghdad for 20 years."

"It will also be a chance, a new chance for the development of business between France and Iraq but more globally, between Europe and Iraq," Anne-Marie Idrac, France's top trade official who was on board the flight, said.

Aigle Azur, owned by the Franco-Algerian Idjerouidene family, will from early 2011 offer two flights a week to Baghdad from Charles de Gaulle, Europe's second busiest air hub after London's Heathrow.

Aigle Azur is also negotiating a code-sharing deal that would allow Air France-KLM to offer flights to the Iraqi capital as well.

Although France doubled its exports to Iraq in 2009 to $571m, French business accounts for only one per cent of foreign investment in Iraq.

"It's unthinkable for French businesses not to take part in the reconstruction of Iraq," Idrac, who is to sign trade agreements notably on agriculture and investment protection while in Baghdad, said.

Source: Agencies