Iraq closes airspace as missiles fly near airport

French navy personnel working on warplanes. Russia said its strikes had destroyed facilities near ISIS' stronghold of Raqqa, which is also the target of French air strikes.
French navy personnel working on warplanes. Russia said its strikes had destroyed facilities near ISIS' stronghold of Raqqa, which is also the target of French air strikes.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BAGHDAD • Iraq closed its northern airspace to commercial flights yesterday for at least two days because of military traffic from Russia's air campaign in neighbouring Syria, a spokesman for Erbil International Airport said.

The closure was expected to affect domestic routes to Erbil and Sulaimaniya as well as international flights from Turkey, Jordan, the Gulf and Austria.

Iraq's civil aviation authority said in a statement the flight suspensions were "to protect travellers and because of the crossing of cruise missiles and bombers in the northern part of Iraq launched from the Caspian Sea".

Russia began launching cruise missiles and long-range bombers from warships in the Caspian last month, passing over Iran and Iraq and covering a distance of 1,500km to reach their targets.

The Erbil airport spokesman said a change in the missiles' route brought them "uncomfortably close" to the airport, without providing more details.

A spokesman for the US-led coalition, which conducts some operations near Erbil airport, said he was not aware of the cause for the shutdown.

The director of Erbil airport said in a statement the suspension could last longer than the initial 48 hours. Emirates Airlines said it had cancelled flights to Erbil until Thursday.

Moscow also uses bombers from Russian air bases to launch air strikes it says have been requested by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

US officials said last month four missiles launched from Russian warships in the Caspian Sea had crashed in Iran, but Moscow insisted they had reached their targets in Syria.

The Kalibr cruise missiles, which Nato has codenamed Sizzler, fly at an altitude of 50m and are accurate to within 3m, the Russian defence ministry says.

Moscow said yesterday its warplanes had hit 472 targets in Syria over the past two days, including tanker trucks and oil infrastructure in areas controlled by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group.

The Russian military said the latest strikes had destroyed 80 tanker trucks near the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa, as well as a large oil storage tank and a oil refinery south of the city.

The Russian defence ministry said last week it was "hunting" oil transporters to cut ISIS financing and claimed that in the past five days about 1,000 fuel trucks had been destroyed.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 24, 2015, with the headline 'Iraq closes airspace as missiles fly near airport'. Print Edition | Subscribe