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Flights to Iraq launched

Austrian Airlines will become the first commercial carrier to offer flights to Iraq since the US-led invasion, when it starts services to the northern town of Erbil next month.

From December 11, Austrian will fly twice a week from Vienna to Erbil, the fourth-largest city in Iraq. Located around 50 miles east of Mosul, close to the borders with Turkey and Iran, Erbil is the capital of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). This walled city dates back to Assyrian times and is believed by many to be the oldest continuously-inhabited city in the world.

A spokesman for the airline said Erbil represented a safe gateway into Iraq. “Erbil is truly a milestone in the development of the Austrian route network. We are creating a connection that is essential for the economic redevelopment of the country,” he added.

However, the British Foreign Office continues to warn against all travel to Baghdad, its surrounding areas and any non-essential travel to the rest of the country. “There have been fewer attacks in cities in the KRG-administered areas. But, the threat of terrorism remains real,” it warns travellers.

The Foreign Office site points out there were two terrorist attacks in Erbil in 2004 and two in nearby Sulaymaniyah last year.

Austrian Airlines has a history of offering flights to politically volatile regions. Austrian was the first major airline to resume services to the former Yugoslavia after the end of the Balkan wars in the 1990s. It was also the first to launch routes to Odessa and Dnepropetrovsk in the Ukraine.