Baghdad Airport Reopened

Baghdad International Airport is seen in this Thursday, May 15, 2003 file photo. The Baghdad International Airport, the country's only reliable link to the outside world, was closed Friday in an embarrassing pay dispute between the government and a British security company. The Interior Ministry said it was sending troops to reopen the facility.
Baghdad International Airport, the country's only reliable and relatively safe link to the outside world, reopened early Saturday after being closed for a day over a payments dispute between the government and a British company providing security at the facility.

"We have reached agreement with the Global security firm, and the airport is open now for domestic and international flights," said Esmat Amer, acting Transportation Minister. He declined to give any details about the agreement.

London-based Global Strategies Group has been providing security at the sprawling facility 12 miles from downtown Baghdad since last year. On Friday, Global suspended operations claiming the Ministry of Transportation, which owns the airport, was six months behind in payments.

Brig. Gen. John Basilica Jr., commander of the 256th Brigade Combat Team of the Louisiana National Guard, said security remained "intact" at the airport. His unit, some of which is has already returned to the United States, had been in charge of security along the dangerous airport road.

Otherwise, the U.S. military, in an apparent attempt to play down the ruckus, said it had no information about the pay dispute or Interior Ministry force movements.

This was believed to be the first serious dispute involving a Western contract operation since the U.S.-led invasion ousted Saddam Hussein more than two years ago.

In other developments:

  • Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said Friday he believes that within two years, there'll be no further need for U.S. forces there. Praising U.S. forces for contributing to Iraq's emergence from hardline rule by Saddam Hussein, Talabani said, "We need American troops to intimidate our neighbors."
  • A former American hostage who was rescued near Baghdad, Iraq, is heading home. The military said Roy Hallums left Iraq on Friday on a C-17 transport headed to the U.S.
  • U.S. and Iraqi forces encircling the northern city of Tal Afar arrested 200 suspected insurgents — most of them foreign fighters — in a sweep through a militant-held district, the Iraqi military announced Thursday.
  • A suicide car bomber detonated his black BMW on Thursday as a private American security convoy passed on its way to the nearby Sadir Hotel, wounding three passers-by. On Friday, a car bomb exploded near the heavily fortified downtown hotel, which is used by private Western security agents and construction workers, killing one hotel guard and wounding three.
  • Police reported finding 17 unidentified bodies near a farming town south of Baghdad and on its outskirts. Soldiers and police collected 15 of victims on Thursday near Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of the capital. A police official said they had been shot to death. Two more decomposing bodies, blindfolded and handcuffed, were found on the outskirts of Baghdad, near a sewage plant, police said.
  • An official of the court that will try Saddam Hussein discounted a claim by Iraq's president that the former leader had admitted wrongdoing in a confession to mass killings and other crimes during his rule. The official of the Iraq Special Tribunal, which will put Saddam on trial Oct. 19, said Saddam made a statement last month, but did not confess to criminal activity. The former dictator "boastfully" acknowledged a campaign against the Kurds in 1987-88.

    The United States has managed to keep its forces in Iraq — now at about 140,000 — to a minimum by hiring out vast amounts of work the military normally would do to outside contractors. Congress has routinely complained that oversight is lax and the U.S. government is regularly overcharged.