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The first commercial airline flight in 14 years took off earlier this week from the Mosul airport, U.S. military officials said Tuesday.

The flight, which departed from the northern Iraqi airport on Sunday, carried some 150 religious pilgrims on their way to Mecca for the Hajj, a spiritual pilgrimage that Muslims are expected to make at least once in their lives.

No commercial flights had left from the airport since the airspace above the city — and most of northern Iraq — was declared a no-fly zone in 1993. The no-fly zone was part of sanctions placed on Saddam Hussein’s regime after the Persian Gulf War.

The Mosul Airport was built in 1992, officials said, but had fallen into disrepair from lack of use.

A team of Iraqi and U.S. government agencies, including Provincial Reconstruction Teams attached to U.S. forces in northern Iraq, began working to get the airport back into service. The impetus came from both military use of the airport and a desire to boost the economy by bringing in commercial traffic.

A similar arrangement is in place at the Baghdad International Airport, which services commercial flights in one section and U.S. military flights in another.

“This is a significant step for the revitalization of the economy, not just [for] Mosul, but all of northern Iraq,” Jason Hyland, leader of the Ninevah Provincial Reconstruction Team, was quoted as saying in a news release.

The State Department contributed $3.2 million to renovate the passenger terminal, with other funding coming from the Iraqi ministries of transport and finance, officials said.

In an earlier release, the military said that soldiers from the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, along with soldiers from the 11th Engineer Brigade, 94th Engineer Battalion and 77th Engineer Company, repaired seven spots in the runway. The damaged runway had posed “foreign object and debris hazards” to incoming aircraft, officials said.

The first flight, which left around 10:30 Sunday night, was Iraqi Airways Flight 020, which flew to Baghdad. From there, the pilgrims boarded another flight to Saudi Arabia.


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