MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) - Iraq closed the international airport in its second largest city Mosul on Tuesday, grounding all flights without giving any explanation, air industry and security sources said.
The closure affects flights to and from Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey, as well as daily internal flights between the northern city and the capital.
“Security forces closed Mosul airport without giving any reason. All flights are canceled,” said a source at the airport on condition of anonymity.
Mosul International Airport was used as a base by U.S. forces during the 2003 invasion to topple Saddam Hussein and the city was a focal point of the insurgency that ensued.
Security has improved, attracting some investment, although the city remains one of Iraq’s most dangerous. Militant groups including al Qaeda still have a foothold there.
“To begin with they (the authorities) said there was information about a highjacked plane, and then they said it was closed for maintenance purposes, but there are no maintenance works,” a senior security source in Mosul told Reuters.
The security source said Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had ordered the airport closed, though no one was immediately available for comment from the premier’s office.
Maliki has been at loggerheads with Mosul governor Atheel al-Nujaifi on several fronts in recent years, including over Nujaifi’s support for protests by Iraq’s Sunni Muslim minority against the Shi’ite-led government.
“We reject the closure of the airport which is the lungs of the city and connects it with other countries,” Nujaifi told Reuters.
Reporting by Ziad al Sinjary and Raheem Salman; Writing by Isabel Coles; Editing by Andrew Heavens