Iraq grounds northern flights over missiles launched at Syria

Iraq grounds northern flights over missiles launched at Syria

BAGHDAD - Reuters
Iraq grounds northern flights over missiles launched at Syria

A still image taken from video footage, released by Russia's Defence Ministry on November 20, 2015, shows Russian navy ships launching cruise missiles at targets in Syria, in the Caspian sea, according to Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation. REUTERS/Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation/Handout via Reuters

Iraq said it was suspending flights between Baghdad and the northern cities of Arbil and Sulaimaniya for two days starting on Nov. 23 due to military traffic from Russia's air campaign in neighbouring Syria.

Iraq's civil aviation authority said in a statement the decision was made "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 some 1,500 km (900 miles) to reach their targets. 

It was not immediately clear if Baghdad was expecting an increase in such activity this week. Iraq announced intelligence and security cooperation last month with Russia, Iran and Syria to counter the threat from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). 

Moscow also uses bombers from Russian air bases to launch air strikes it says were requested by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It contends its main target is ISIL militants who control large swathes of Syria and Iraq, but it has been accused of hitting other targets, including territory occupied by Western-backed rebels. 

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

The terrain-hugging Kalibr cruise missiles, which NATO has codenamed Sizzler, fly at an altitude of 50 metres (164 feet) and are accurate to within three metres, according to the Russian Defence Ministry. 

A U.S.-led coalition has also been bombing ISIL targets in Iraq and Syria for more than a year.