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Basra Airport to Reopen

Basra Airport to Reopen

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Iraq's interim government announced plans to reopen Basra airport by the end of the month and has already authorized planned flights by at least six foreign carriers.

In northern Baghdad, a fire broke out Tuesday afternoon in an oil pipeline, Army Spec. Nicole Thompson said. A huge cloud of smoke hung over the city for several hours. Thompson said the cause was unknown.

Elsewhere, guerrillas wounded three American soldiers in northern Iraq on Monday, and a U.S. raid on a remote village near the Iranian border failed to capture a top fugitive suspected of plotting attacks on coalition forces.

International commercial flights to and from Iraq have been suspended since the 1991 Gulf War. Ibrahim al-Jaafari, current president of the U.S.-picked Governing Council, said Monday the resumption of commercial flights would be "a big step forward to opening Iraq to the world."

Al-Jaafari, who is serving as council president during August, also said the appointment of Cabinet ministers has been postponed by three weeks. He said a 25-member committee has been formed to look into how to proceed with selecting a constitutional assembly. The members include judges, academicians and lawyers and reflects Iraq's ethnic and religious groups.

During the 12 years of United Nations sanctions, only Royal Jordanian had been flying to Baghdad with U.N. approval.

U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer had said he hoped to get both Baghdad and Basra airports reopened by mid-September, and predicted last week that Basra would be secured and operational before the Baghdad International Airport. The Baghdad airport has seen at least three failed surface-to-air missile attacks on military flights since U.S. forces took control of the capital April 9.

In Sweden, Scandinavian Airlines System said Tuesday it hoped to resume at least two flights a week to Basra, Iraq's second largest city.

SAS, the joint carrier of Sweden, Denmark and Norway, sought permission from the U.S.-backed civilian administration overseeing Iraq earlier this year to resume the flights. The Iraqi Governing Council said it approved the application.

Lennart Svantemark, an SAS vice president, told The Associated Press the start of service depended on "the security situation" in the southern Iraqi city.

"We have said in our application that security is a requisite for us to do start flying," he said.

Al-Jaafari said other carriers include Gulf Air -- owned by Bahrain, Oman and Abu Dhabi -- Royal Jordanian, Emirates, Qatar Airways and the Polish flag carrier LOT.

Also in Basra, British troops restored badly needed electricity to parts of the city and supervised distribution of gasoline after two days of protests over fuel and power shortages.

In central Baghdad, two grenades were thrown from a car at a U.S. military checkpoint; soldiers returned fire, killing one Iraqi, witnesses said.

In al-Shumayt, north of Tikrit, guerrillas fired rocket-propelled grenades and detonated at least one homemade bomb, wounding three American soldiers, U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Bill MacDonald said. All three were in stable condition, he said.

Monday's raid missed its main target, a former member of Saddam Hussein's regime who is on the U.S. list of 55 most-wanted Iraqis, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Mark Young said.

Seventy suspects were taken into custody, he said. Ain Lalin is about 60 miles northeast of Baghdad.

Meanwhile, two more American soldiers in Iraq have fallen ill with serious pneumonia, U.S. military officials said, bringing to 17 the number of U.S. troops who have contracted the ailment.

Officials have been unable to find a common cause for the illnesses, the U.S. military said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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