The Boeing 737 banked sharply to the left as it roared into the sky from Baghdad International Airport. The pilot, Adel Aldoori, cupped his hand to block the sun and scanned the ground from the tiny cockpit window.
The Iraqi Airways jet was ascending in ear-popping, stomach-churning, circular swirls to evade any missile attacks from the ground. Four weeks earlier, a surface-to-air missile barely missed a Royal Jordanian plane as it took off from Baghdad.
"Of course it makes me nervous, and there is discomfort for the passengers," Aldoori said, white tissue tucked into the back of his shirt collar to catch the sweat. The sun blazed through the window as the brown, dusty landscape dotted with man-made lakes, military camps and former palace compounds receded.
"What scares me much more is the traffic, especially the military," said 1st Officer Ghassan Alami, who twisted in his seat to see what was behind, below and to the side of the plane. "The military pilots, they don't care. They'll come within two miles."
The plane, freshly painted in Iraqi Airways' traditional white and green, was headed from Baghdad to Amman, Jordan. The flight was one of the first international runs operated by the national airline since it began flying after a 14-year hiatus due to war and sanctions.
The carrier also flies from Amman to Damascus. In an interview in Amman on Monday, the Iraqi transportation minister, Luay Eris, said the airliner is negotiating to lease additional aircraft so it can expand its routes.
Aldoori and Alami worked for Iraqi Airways before it stopped flying internationally in 1990. They are now technically employees of Teebah Airlines, a Jordanian-based carrier that is owned by an Iraqi family and leases the 737 and its crew to Iraqi Airways. The plane, manufactured in 1983, used to belong to US Airways. An orange sign in the cockpit reads: "Liquor tax has been paid. US Airways."
Aldoori, a graying man with a tan, wrinkled face, said he still feels a connection to Iraqi Airways.
"It was like a dream," Aldoori said, describing the first Iraqi Airways flight Sept. 18 from Amman to Baghdad. "Really, I can't describe it. It was happiness for me and my colleagues. I feel like Iraqi Airways is my company."
Aldoori lamented the lost years, when Iraqi Airways was not flying.
"I joined Iraqi Airways in 1971," he said. "Before, we were an actual airline. Now it's become difficult for us. We're getting old. We lost a lot."
At the moment, Iraqi Airways has only two pilots -- both on loan from Teebah -- who are authorized to fly 737s. It will take time for the airline to train new pilots.
Before Iraqi Airways resumed international service, Royal Jordanian had a monopoly on commercial passenger flights between Amman and Baghdad, a ride that lasts about an hour and 20 minutes. A round-trip ticket on Royal Jordanian costs about $1,100. Iraqi Airways is offering the same trip for about $700.
The first flights had no passengers, in part, because Iraqi Airways is not advertising its return to the skies. The airline is virtually bankrupt, a position it must retain to protect itself from a lawsuit filed by the Kuwaiti government that alleges Iraqi Airways stole planes and other equipment after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.
Last week, the evening flight had 62 passengers, including more than a dozen stranded Royal Jordanian passengers.
Saad Raheem showed up at the Baghdad airport last Sunday with a Royal Jordanian ticket. But he and his fellow passengers soon discovered that their plane had been delayed; the Fokker 28 had a technical problem and was stuck in Amman for repairs.
"I discovered Iraqi Airways are back, so I bought a ticket on this flight," Raheem said. "I am proud that our aircraft are back to service."
Basem Abdul Rahman had also intended to fly Royal Jordanian, and he was reluctant to change his ticket. "It is not safe," he said. Faced with an unknown delay, however, he ultimately changed his mind.
En route to Jordan, the voice of the Royal Jordanian pilot came over the radio in the cockpit. He was requesting a quick landing in Baghdad to retrieve his passengers and return to Amman before the airport closed. Otherwise he would be stranded in Iraq.
Aldoori and Alami laughed. "Tell them they'll have no passengers," Alami said. "They're all flying with us."
In the main cabin, passengers were nibbling on their in-flight snack from a plastic box that contained two small sandwiches and a piece of cake.
Abdul Karim Hashim, Iraq's new ambassador to Russia, examined the cake package. It was made in Iran.
Hashim, dressed in a dark suit and sitting in the first row of the economy class, had returned to Iraq after 20 years in exile. He was flying to Geneva to pick up his family and then heading to his posting in Moscow. He too had been booked on the Royal Jordanian flight. He didn't know Iraqi Airways was flying. He changed his ticket as soon as he got to the airport.
"It's a great pleasure," he said. "I am proud to fly with my own national transportation."
After the plane landed at Amman's Queen Alia International Airport and taxied past three Iraqi Airways planes that Jordan has seized for debt service, even the skeptical Abdul Rahman said he was pleased with the flight.
"From now on, I will fly with them," he said. "This is my airline."
Special correspondent Naseer Nouri contributed to this report.