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Sun 24 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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Ahmadinejad heads for final frontier

Satellites and superjumbos will be on the agenda when Iran's president visits Baghdad next month.

Things are looking up for Iran and President Ahmadinejad. About 250km up, to be precise, where the Kavoshgar (‘Explorer') probe has begun sending real-time data back to earth. Sent into space on the back of a rocket whose launch prompted international concern, Kavoshgar is touted as preparation for the launch of the first home-produced Iranian satellite later this year, and is another firm statement of intent from a nation characterised by its unrelenting technological ambition.

Iran's neighbours' ambitions lie a little closer to the earth's surface, although still a fair way up. Iraq last week announced that it had agreed to buy 40 new aircraft from US plane maker Boeing and six from Canada's Bombardier for state-run Iraqi Airways in a deal worth up to US$5bn.

A ministerial committee was formed and has agreed to buy 40 planes from Boeing, and four other used ones from Boeing and six new planes from Bombardier," Bangeen Riqani, deputy minister of transport, told reporters.

The news followed an earlier government statement that said Iraq would buy the 40 Boeing jets, and had agreed an option for 10 more. The Boeing jets are due for delivery in 2015, and the Canadian aircraft are due this year and in 2009, according to Riqani, who declined to reveal any details on the type of aircraft involved in the deal.

The purchases will help the government to open a series of new routes from Baghdad to Arab countries and other world capitals, including London, Frankfurt, Karachi and Manama. To help fund the growth, the government is selling majority stakes in three Iraqi Airways units to private investors to raise around US$100m.

The government will sell stakes of between 60 and 65% in the carrier's ground handling, maintenance and catering units, allowing the airline to invest in a respectable fleet: it currently owns just two aircraft, and leases a limited number of other planes.

So satellites and superjumbos will no doubt be on the agenda when Ahmadinejad visits Baghdad next month, for the first visit by an Iranian president to Iraq. He is expected to meet Iraq's President Jalal Talabani and PM Nouri Maliki during a two-day visit, and the thorny topic of US-led sanctions will surely come up too.

After all, restrictions similar to those currently hobbling Iran caused Iraq's national carrier to ground its planes in the early 1990s - a blow from which it is only just recovering.

Back in Tehran, a spokesman for Iran's space organisation revealed that Kavoshgar would be returning to earth, although he declined to explain exactly how. Surely an invitation, you would have thought, for the US to offer the services of that shiny new anti-satellite missile technology it has been waving about for the last few weeks? Or would that constitute cooperation?

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K R mathew 12 years ago

It is interesting to hear such good news where once again the needs of the people suffering in Iraq is ignored. Oops, sorry may be they are not ignored but last in the list of priorities. It is shame to see the Iraqi Govt falling once again in the trap of the US, selling themselves. Iraq needs medicine and doctors not planes. Investment in hospitals and welfare should be the priority.