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Iraq sets first Kuwait flights since 1990 invasion

KUWAIT | Tue Feb 12, 2013 12:25pm EST

KUWAIT (Reuters) - Iraq's state airline will resume flights to Kuwait this week for the first time since former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein invaded the Gulf oil state in 1990, Kuwait said on Tuesday, in a sign of improved bilateral ties.

Diplomatic relations improved last year after Kuwait and Iraq came to a settlement over Gulf War-era debts, and were bolstered by a series of bilateral visits involving Kuwait's ruler and Iraq's prime minister.

Saddam's invasion of Kuwait led to the 1991 Gulf War in which a U.S.-led coalition forced Iraq out of Kuwait.

"Iraqi Airways (is) to resume flights to Kuwait on Feb 16 after 22 years of suspension," Kuwait's state news agency KUNA said in an SMS alert late on Tuesday without giving further details.

Kuwait's state-run airline has not resumed flights to Iraq. One small private carrier offers direct flights between the two countries but major airlines route through other cities such as Dubai even though the capitals lie only 560 km (346 miles) apart.

In December Kuwait's state-run airline dropped legal cases against Iraqi Airways in return for compensation of $500 million.

The row was part of a broader dispute over billions of dollars in reparations dating back to the invasion when Saddam Hussein's his forces seized aircraft and parts.

Iraq and Kuwait initially agreed to that deal in March, under which Baghdad agreed to pay its smaller neighbour $300 million in cash and invest $200 million in a joint airline venture in return for the lifting of legal actions.

Iraqi Airways flies to regional destinations such as Beirut, Dubai, Tehran and Amman, but legal cases made it difficult to start flights to European destinations where it risked its planes being confiscated. (Reporting by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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