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Bahrain’s Gulf Air Resumes Flights to Iraqi Holy City

Gulf Air, Bahrain’s state-owned carrier, resumed flights to Najaf, one of the holiest cities for Shiite Muslims, marking the resumption of service to Iraq after a halt that lasted more than a year. The Najaf airport said it wouldn’t allow future flights, Agence France-Presse reported.

A flight left Bahrain to Najaf this morning, Manama-based Gulf Air said in an e-mailed statement, and the carrier plans to operate four weekly flights to the city.

The airport in Najaf decided to ban Gulf Air planes from landing starting today as a sign of “solidarity with the people of Bahrain,” the airport’s committee supervising said in a statement, according to AFP. “This decision aims to protest against the inhuman practices to which the Bahrainis are subjected.”

Katherine Kaczynska, a Gulf Air spokeswoman, said the carrier hasn’t been informed of any change in the flights to Najaf.

“Gulf Air’s flights are operating into Iraq as scheduled, in line with the official approval granted by the Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority in Baghdad,” she said in an e-mail. “We have not received any official communication from the authorities in Iraq stating otherwise.”

Millions of Shiite pilgrims annually visit the shrine city, where Imam Ali, the Prophet Muhammad’s son-in-low and cousin, is buried.

Gulf Air said last month it would resume flights to Baghdad, Erbil, Najaf and Basra in Iraq, and Tehran, Mashhad, Shiraz and Isfahan in Iran, that were suspended last year amid unrest in Bahrain. The carrier canceled flights to and from Iran and Iraq in March 2011, when Bahrain declared a three-month state of emergency after troops from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states arrived to help quell protests driven by majority Shiites, who were calling for democratic reform.

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