Sunday, October 03, 2004

Baghdad - 24th January, 2004. A giant Russian transport..

..rolls out at the US-run airport, with its Australian air traffic controllers and piles of junked Iraqi aircraft, high-security PX store and high-value detainee camp. The aircraft was an Ilyushin Il-76MD, serial number 83485313, registered S9-DAE and carrying the markings of an airline called Skylink. S9- is the international registration prefix for Sao Tome and Principe, a tiny island off West Africa that was also host to the now notorious British Gulf International Airlines until all its staff and assets transferred to a new registry, that of Kyrgyzstan. Strangely, through all this, the firm's base and offices remained right where they had been - in Sharjah.

Strangely, though, I can find no record of the aircraft ever being registered to Skylink, the name it proudly bore if not in very big letters. Neither does an Antonov An-12, registered 9L-LEC (Sierra Leone registry, dear God), that is also placed in Baghdad during January 2004 - perhaps not surprising, as the name appears to be signwritten using black gaffer tape or similar on this machine. This may begin to explain the third of the US Department of Defence fuel contracts at the heart of the story. Did contract no. TBTC01, to "Sky Traffic Facilitators" of Sharjah, cover the "Skylink" aircraft?

As another contribution to the mess, is it not curious that Iraqi Airways is operating a Boeing 737 registered in Sierra Leone (9L-LEG), leased from a Jordanian firm and previously owned by Trans Air Congo - also previous operators of 9L-LEC?

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