BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq closed its northern airspace to all flights on Monday for at least two days due to military traffic from Russia’s air campaign in neighboring Syria.
The closure was expected to affect domestic commercial routes to Erbil and Sulaimaniya as well as international flights from Turkey, Jordan, the Gulf and Austria.
A spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, which launches reconnaissance and resupply flights from Erbil, said all military traffic had also been halted.
Iraq’s civil aviation authority said in a statement that flight suspensions were made “to protect travelers and because of the crossing of cruise missiles and bombers in the northern part of Iraq launched from the Caspian Sea”.
Russia began launching missiles and long-range bombers from warships in the Caspian last month. They travel some 1,500 km (900 miles) over Iran and Iraq.
A spokesman for Erbil International Airport said a change in the missiles’ route had brought them “uncomfortably close” to the airport, without providing more details.
The director of Erbil airport said in a statement the suspension could last longer than the initial 48 hours. Emirates Airlines said it had canceled flights to Erbil until Thursday.
The coalition spokesman, U.S. Army Colonel Steve Warren, said the trigger and expected length of the interruption was unclear.
The coalition has been bombing Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria for more than a year separately from the Russian campaign.
With competing military demands on the airspace over Iraq and Syria, flight time and fuel costs for commercial traffic has risen as aircraft queue to enter narrow corridors.
Moscow says its air strikes were requested by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and contends their main target is Islamic State 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 had crashed in Iran, though Moscow insisted they reached their targets in Syria.
The terrain-hugging Kalibr cruise missiles, which NATO has codenamed Sizzler, fly at an altitude of 50 meters (164 feet) and are accurate to within three meters, the Russian Defense Ministry says.
Moscow also uses bombers from Russian airbases to launch airstrikes.
Reporting by Stephen Kalin and Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad, Isabel Coles in Erbil and Nadia Saleem in Dubai; Editing by Alan Crosby and Gareth Jones