Fly Baghdad begins legal process to appeal against US sanctions decision

Iraq's low-cost airline accused of supporting Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force

Fly Baghdad, the budget Iraqi airline, flies to 45 destinations in the Middle East and Asia. Reuters
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Iraq's low-cost airline Fly Baghdad has started legal procedures to appeal against a US Treasury decision to impose sanctions on the company, which has been accused of supporting Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force as well as auxiliary groups in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

The filing process will take seven to 10 days. The airline has two months until March 22 to appeal against the decision, a move that has the full support of the Iraqi authorities, Nameer Al Qaisi, Fly Baghdad's security manager and aviation consultant, told The National on Tuesday.

“We started the procedures for the appeal and all of this is with the full knowledge and support of the Iraqi government, the Civil Aviation Authority and the Ministry of Transportation,” he said.

Currently, our operations are stable and continuing but we don't know what will happen tomorrow or in the next hour
Nameer Al Qaisi, Fly Baghdad's security manager and aviation consultant

He said that the state supports Fly Baghdad in contesting the charges.

After the US Treasury's decision late on Monday, the airline initially delayed two flights before resuming normal operations until Tuesday.

Mr Qaisi said that there were no prior warnings to the sanctions.

“It was staggering and very surprising because we are far from all these allegations directed against Fly Baghdad,” Mr Al Qaisi said.

“How can a passenger airline fly to countries' airports transporting weapons and fighters and ammunition without knowledge of the state?

“How can we bypass all these authorities so easily … This is completely illogical.”

Washington on Monday accused Fly Baghdad of being involved in the transfer of hundreds of fighters – including those belonging to designated terrorist organisations – in support of Iranian proxy groups in the region following the Hamas attacks on Israel on October 7.

Fly Baghdad chief executive Basheer Abdulkadhim Al Shabbani has also been sanctioned and two Iraq-registered aircraft owned by the airline have been listed as blocked property.

Fly Baghdad is accused of supporting the IRGC Quds Force “for several years” through the delivery of weapons shipments to Damascus to support the groups and other Iran-aligned militia groups in Syria.

The airline has been used by Kataib Hezbollah to transfer personnel, weapons and funds to Syria and Lebanon in support of the Syrian regime, the US said.

Passenger advice

The airline has not cancelled flights or halted operations but is advising passengers to call the customer service helpline before going to the airport as the “current situation has many developments”, Mr Al Qaisi said.

“Currently our operations are stable and continuing but we don't know what will happen tomorrow or in the next hour.”

Passengers took to X, previously known as Twitter, to vent their frustration with Fly Baghdad's flight delays on Monday evening. Videos showing scenes of chaos at the airport have not been verified independently by The National.

Fly Baghdad flies to 45 destinations in the Middle East and Asia. Its route network includes Aleppo, Beirut, Damascus, Dubai, Istanbul, Mumbai and Tehran.

The airline's fleet of 11 planes comprises two CRJ regional jets and nine Boeing 737s including the 737-700, 737-800 and 737-900.

The fleet is a mix of owned and leased planes, Mr Al Qaisi said, without providing details, however, he insisted the airline's position was “strong”.

Regarding whether the US sanctions may affect the airline's access to plane components and maintenance, repair and overhaul services, Mr Al Qaisi said: “We are working very hard to reduce or end the impact of this decision … we are confident that matters will not escalate and that these companies will not withdraw, there are long-term contracts and clauses.”

Fly Baghdad, which was founded in 2014, also has an agreement with the US-led International Coalition formed in 2014 to fight ISIS, Mr Al Qaisi said.

“We work closely with the coalition forces and we are the official carrier for them to and from Iraq,” he said.

“We are in close contact with them and meet all their needs.”

He added that no steps from the Central Bank of Iraq have been taken against the airline in light of the US Department of Treasury decision.


Iraqi authorities are fully supporting Fly Baghdad as a major player in the country's aviation sector, the airline executive said.

“If the [sanctions] decision is imposed, then there will be big ramifications for Iraq's aviation sector,” he said.

“For sure, the US Treasury does not intend to inflict pain or harm on the Iraqi people.”

Escalating tensions

In recent weeks, tensions have escalated between US troops and Iran-backed militias in Iraq after a series of tit-for-tat attacks in the country and over the border in Syria.

More than a dozen fighters were killed in separate US strikes, including a senior militia leader, while several US personnel were wounded.

The outbreak of the Gaza war broke the one-year calm between the militias and US forces that followed the establishment of Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani’s government.

The militias say their attacks against US troops in Iraq and Syria were in response to Washington's support for Israel in its fight against Hamas, and are demanding its withdrawal.

Updated: January 24, 2024, 2:25 PM