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Dubai, European airlines diverting flights over Iraq

July 31, 2014, Baghdad, Iraq - European airlines and a Dubai-based carrier are rerouting flights over Iraqi airspace as a security precaution amid fears that militants with the Islamic State group have weapons capable of shooting down planes, despite Iraq saying its skies are safe.


July 31, 2014
By The Associated Press

A number of European carriers, including Virgin Atlantic, KLM and Air
France, say they have devised alternate flight plans for their planes.
Air France specifically said it detected a "potential threat" on July 24
which triggered the airline's decision, said Eric Prevot, a spokesman
for the Air France's Flight Operations Center.

 

The decisions come after a Malaysia
Airlines flight crashed over rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine on
July 17, killing all 298 people on board. U.S. and Ukrainian officials
say it was shot down by a missile from rebel territory, most likely by
mistake.

 

The Ukraine crash has many
in the aviation industry reconsidering flight paths as hot spots from
West Africa to Central Asia could potentially put passengers at risk.
Though experts say the skies are largely safe, there is a danger of
militants using sophisticated weapons.

 

Iraq is facing its worst crisis since the
2011 withdrawal of U.S. troops amid the blitz offensive launched last
month by al-Qaida breakaway Islamic State group, which captured large
swaths of land in the country's west and north, including Iraq's
second-largest city, Mosul.

 

When the group overran the cities of
Mosul and Tikrit in June, Iraqi security forces virtually collapsed.

 

In
most cases, police and soldiers simply ran, abandoning arsenals of heavy
weapons. Some fear the militants may have captured some sophisticated
weapons, such as ground-to-air missiles capable of shooting down
airplanes.

 

Many international
commercial flights said they were continuing to fly normally over
militant-held areas in western and northern Iraq until recent days, when
Dubai-based Emirates publicly announced it would avoid the regions.

 

Air France said it is currently avoiding
numerous routes over Iraq, Syria and Libya, as well as eastern Ukraine
and Crimea. Amsterdam-based KLM said it stopped flying over Iraq last
week, adding that it has suspend some flights to Israel in recent days
as a conflict between Israelis and Hamas in the Gaza Strip enters its
fourth week.

 

U.S. carrier Delta Air Lines has no-fly zones over Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Ukraine.

Abu Dhabi-based Etihad
Airways said in a statement that it maintains "a set of contingencies
relative to Iraq" but added that it sees "no evidence that either the
capability or the intent exists to target aircraft overflying Iraq, by
either side of the current conflict."

 

The Iraqi government also dismissed the fears, saying that Iraqi skies and airports are safe.

 

"The Baghdad airport is highly secured,"
said Nassir Bandar, head of the Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority.

"There
is no threat to airplanes passing over the Iraqi skies."

 

However, an airplane landing
at Baghdad's airport has been targeted before. In November 2003, a
missile struck a DHL cargo plane on its approach to Baghdad's airport,
forcing it to make an emergency landing with its wing aflame. A U.S.
military investigation later indicated the plane was hit by a
surface-to-air missile.