The flight may be in part a response by Iraq to the hard line on sanctions expressed by the United States Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, who said that American policy would change only with an alteration to the regime in Iraq. The aircraft, whose pilgrim passengers were all over 50, had taken off from Rashid airbase outside Baghdad. After it crossed the Iraqi frontier, the flight was escorted by two Saudi Arabian fighters. Saudi Arabia is obligated to receive Haj pilgrims bound for the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
In the first international flight by an Iraqi aircraft since 1991, an aeroplane carrying 104 passengers on the Haj pilgrimage arrived unexpectedly yesterday at the Red Sea port of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.