Iraq suspends northern flights due to Russia strikes against Syria targets
BAGHDAD - Flights to and from two northern Iraqi airports were suspended for 48 hours beginning on Monday due to danger posed by Russian cruise missiles heading for neighbouring Syria, officials said.
Iraq's "Civil Aviation Authority decided to suspend all departing and arriving flights from and to Arbil and Sulaimaniyah airports" for 48 hours from 8:00 am (0500 GMT) on Monday, it said in a statement, referring to airports in the autonomous Kurdish region.
The decision was made to "protect passengers and because of the crossing of cruise missiles and bombers," it said.
The directors of Arbil and Sulaimaniyah airports both confirmed that flights had been suspended, mentioning the danger of Russian missiles but not the bombers referred to in the Civil Aviation Authority's statement.
"There are fears for the aircraft and passengers due to Russian missiles," said Talar Faeq, director general of Arbil airport.
Sulaimaniyah airport director Tahir Abdullah said the decision was taken "because of the intensification of Russian missile attacks on Daesh strongholds in Syria," using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State jihadist group.
Russia began carrying out strikes in Syria on September 30 in support of its longstanding ally President Bashar al-Assad.
In its bombing campaign, Moscow has fired cruise missiles from warships in the Caspian Sea that passed over northern Iraq en route to their targets in Syria, most recently on Friday.
On Saturday, flights in and out of Lebanon were rerouted and some airlines cancelled services after Moscow requested they avoid an area over the eastern Mediterranean.
A US-led coalition is also carrying out strikes against IS in Iraq and Syria, where the jihadist group has declared a cross-border "caliphate" spanning territory it controls in the two countries.
Coalition spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said that its operations, which have been ongoing since August 2014, were not the cause of the flight suspensions in Iraq.