Russian Aid Plane Allowed to Land in Iraq

BAGHDAD (Reuters)–A Russian aircraft carrying humanitarian aid landed in Baghdad Wednesday after being stranded in Armenia for three days awaiting UN approval for the flight–airport sources said.

They said Iraqi members of parliament were at the airport to meet a Russian parliamentary delegation led by Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

The plane had been stuck in the Armenian capital of Yerevan since Sunday because of US objection. Stringent UN sanctions in force since Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait include a ban on international flights to and from Iraq–unless authorized by the 15-nation UN committee that oversees the sanctions.

The deputies’ departure from Yerevan followed angry and sometimes farcical scenes in which the flamboyant Zhirinovsky and his supporters publicly berated Russian officials over what they called Moscow’s lack of support for the mercy flight.

In Moscow–the speaker of Russia’s State Duma lower chamber–Gennady Seleznyov–said parliament would withdraw its backing for the delegation if it did not comply with the UN committee ruling that only 30 people could travel on to Iraq.

Despite Zhirinovsky’s criticism–the Russian government and the opposition-dominated Duma (lower house) have shown rare unanimity during the Iraq crisis–calling for a peaceful solution and condemning Washington’s readiness to use military strikes against Baghdad.

President Boris Yeltsin’s special envoy–Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Posuvalyuk–is in Baghdad trying to defuse a crisis between Iraq and the United Nations over UN weapons inspections.

On Dec. 24–the sanctions committee gave permission for a Russian plane grounded in Iran to continue its flight to Iraq with medical supplies and a party of Russian parliamentarians. None of the committee members raised objections on that occasion.

Zhirinovsky reportedly attacked Russian ambassador to Armenia–Andrei Ournov–Wednesday as well–as Russian television revealed the angered Russian ultra-nationalist leader had grown tired of his delegation’s delays in Armenia–and simply lost control and struck the ambassador square in the face.

First–Zhirinovsky swore at Ournov strongly–blaming him for the failure of the plane with Parliament members–journalists and humanitarian aid to take off–according to the TV report.

However–when Ournov tried to bring Zhirinovsky to reason–the latter hit him in the face–TV said–adding that all film of the incident were confiscated from journalists.


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