Dubai, European airlines divert flights over Iraq

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 30, 2014 at 12:40 pm •  Published: July 30, 2014
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BAGHDAD (AP) — 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.

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.

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