Cablegate: Iraq's Handling of the Curfew at the Baghdad Airport

DE RUEHGB #2067/01 1751446
P 241446Z JUN 07




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. SUMMARY: Following the recent al-Askiri Mosque bombing, the
Government of Iraq imposed a curfew. Curfews, of course, have
complex consequences. The GoI's successful handling of the curfew in
regard to passenger traffic at the Baghdad International Airport
showed its increased abilities to plan and to execute its plans. END

Al-Askiri Mosque Bombing

2. On June 13 one of the holiest sites in Shi'a Islam, the al-Askari
Mosque, was bombed for a second time in two years. On the day of the
bombing, an indefinite curfew was placed on Samarra by the Iraqi
police. Beginning at 3 p.m. of the same day, a curfew was also
placed on vehicle traffic and large gatherings in Baghdad. The
Baghdad curfew had originally been set to expire on Saturday, June
16, 2007. It was lifted, however, at 5 a.m. on Sunday, June 17th.

Iraqi's Respond to Curfew

3. During the three-day curfew airport managers at Baghdad
International Airport (BIAP) faced a problem that even major world
airports have found difficult: What do you do when a large group of
people are stranded at your airport?

4. Due to the ban on most vehicular traffic, anyone arriving at BIAP
who didn't have access to either a PSD or a helicopter ride was
essentially stranded. Under the direction of BIAP Director Mr.
Khaldoon, the Iraqi airport staff took charge. First, they notified
all airlines with incoming flights to immediately stop bringing in
non-Coalition passengers. Next, they notified all staff members to
be prepared to work longer shifts in order to cover for their
coworkers who were trapped at home by the curfew. They then
converted office space into sleeping quarters so that airport
workers would have a place to rest between their extended shifts.

5. Even after the number of incoming Iraqi passengers had been
reduced to a minimum, there were still several hundred people
stranded in the main terminal. Airport staff arranged for food to be
served from the Airport Cafe and they placed cases of bottled water
around the terminal. Passengers were allowed to place blankets and
other covers on the floor in an effort to make themselves as
comfortable as possible. Despite the cramped quarters and difficult
situation, most people were in good spirits. People were seen
sharing their portable DVD players with their new-found neighbors,
giving the impression of several small movie theaters scattered
about the terminal. The airport convenience store reportedly gave
out candy and soft drinks to the many children who had unexpectedly
become airport residents. Airport staff also contacted
representatives of the US Embassy's Transportation Attache's Office
to advise them that additional food and water might be required in
the days to come.

6. As it turned out, the extra supplies weren't needed. The airport
staff made arrangements with the Prime Minister's office to obtain a
waiver from the curfew. They then arranged for the Iraqi National
Police and the Iraqi military to provide security for several buses
to transport passengers to pre-arranged points around Baghdad (they
used police stations). From there, Iraqi police personnel drove the
passengers to their homes. The reverse evacuation took approximately
36 hours to complete, but in the end, virtually everyone made it

Iraq's Airports

7. From May 2005 to May 2006, the monthly average for civilian
take-offs and landings was 1,537. From May 2006 to May 2007, the
monthly average for civilian take-offs and landings was 2,734. This
represents a 78 percent increase in the average-number of civilian
flight activity from one twelve-month period to the next. The good
news is that much of this traffic is controlled by Iraqi controllers
at four of the civilian airports - Baghdad, Basrah, Erbil, and
Sulaimaniyah. The monthly average for the full 24-month period was
2,135 civilian take-offs and landings.

USG Assistance to Airport Infrastructure

8. From 2005 to date, the USG has spent approximately $32M in IRRF
on construction activities at BIAP as well as training of relevant
personnel. Major projects include the critical rehabilitation of
BIAP facilities from electrical to water and sewer, installation of
Visual Aids for aircraft traffic, powering the new radar system,
street lighting, bringing BIAP into compliance with international
navigational aid standards. The USG also provided Operations and
Maintenance training for ICAA personnel using the air traffic
control system, flight safety training and certification for Flight

BAGHDAD 00002067 002 OF 002

Safety Inspectors, tools for critical communication redundancy, and
Air Traffic Control training and English language training.
Moreover, the USG funded and facilitated the Air Navigation Systems
Commissioning Flight Inspection, which will allow flights to land
and depart from BIAP with less than visual flight conditions.

9. Prior to 2005, USAID reportedly spent approximately $20M in IRRF
funds on BIAP infrastructure work including the rehabilitation and
modernization of the Air Traffic Control Tower, repair of Terminal C
and administration offices, construction of security checkpoint and
240-car parking lot, installation of VSAT communications system and
6.5 megawatt power generators, repair of perimeter security fence,
and the restoration of substation transformers and generators.


10. COMMENT: The challenge of dealing with the curfew prompted by an
act of terrorism demonstrated some promising outcomes in terms of
Iraqi officials taking the lead. Without guidance and with only a
small amount of assistance from the USG, Iraqi leadership at BIAP
put into place an action plan that rapidly, effectively and
efficiently responded to an emergency situation. Apart from crisis
management we are also seeing Iraqi's embrace and improve day-to-day
management of the airport. The Iraqis are playing the leading role
in restoring air travel to Baghdad. END COMMENT.

© Scoop Media

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