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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Preparations Under Way to Reopen Baghdad Airport

Aired July 11, 2003 - 19:39   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: U.S. officials right now are trying to build a new Iraq. They have their eye on a milestone they hope to reach very soon, reopening the Baghdad International Airport. Now, preparations are under way right now. And for a society in which travel was tightly restricted, it could be a very important moment.
CNN's Nic Robertson is in Baghdad covering the preparations -- Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, coalition officials are hoping that this will be a step that they can take very soon. They're not yet saying when they'll open the airport.

They put out to tender to all the different international carriers the offer for those carriers to put forward how they thought they could come back to Baghdad, meet the criteria, flying in with only a little fuel, flying in with enough fuel to turn around, depart, on flying into the city, so they could turn around in two hours.

The coalition received 30 of those applications, and right now they're going through them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON (voice-over): On the tarmac at Baghdad International Airport, workers make ready for the return of civilian aircraft. Old lines painted over to meet international standards.

Inside the terminal, Iraqis refit passport booths.

A sense of urgency now with coalition officials in the final stages of deciding which international carriers will fly here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of the issues we have right now is we feel incapability of the airlines to come in.

ROBERTSON: Hatfield says he expects to select about 10 carriers out of the more than 30 who applied for the initial 21 flights a week he plans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to get them in quick, offload, onload, and get them out quick.

ROBERTSON: Destinations on the departure board still reflect the hopes of the U.S. troops who were based here following the capture of the strategic airfield.

Relations with Iraqis, in the airport at least, are now more relaxed. But security is an issue, given recent attacks on civilians and U.S. soldiers on the road to the airport.

(on camera): Under Saddam Hussein, most Iraqis couldn't even come to the airport, never mind travel internationally. Coalition officials hope that by restarting international flights, it will be a huge psychological step forward for the Iraqi people, reconnecting them with the rest of the world.

(voice-over): On one of Baghdad's main streets, where airline offices have remained shuttered and locked since most carriers stopped flying before the first Gulf War, there is hope.

"This is really good news," says this shop owner, "because we were denied permission to travel for a very long time."

"Most Iraqis abroad say they can't come because the land routes are dangerous," says this record company owner. "So this is definitely safer and wiser."

In duty-free at the airport, all that's missing now are passengers and perfumes. The last time this duty-free store got attention, it was about looting by U.S. troops. Now, although coalition officials won't say exactly when the airport will reopen, they are hoping it will erase some of those bad memories and provide a lift for rebuilding efforts.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON: And so often here, Anderson, we're used to people talking to us on the streets, criticizing the U.S. for what's it's doing here. When we told them about the airport today, they actually said, This is great, this will be a really positive thing.

So clearly there's a lot to be gained by making this step in getting this working.

COOPER: Yes, it will be very exciting to see that first flight coming in and landing in Baghdad Airport. Nic Robertson, thanks for the report. Thank you.

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