DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The Middle East’s largest airline, Emirates, said Tuesday it is halting flights to the northern Iraqi city of Irbil, as the country struggles to confront a destabilizing insurgency led by jihadist militants.
The Dubai-based carrier said in a statement it will suspend flights to the Kurdish regional capital starting Aug. 12 for “operational reasons.” It did not link the move specifically to unrest in Iraq, saying only that the suspension followed a review of operations “to ensure the best utilization of its aircraft fleet for its overall business objectives.”
The airline will continue to fly to the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, and the southern oil hub of Basra. Passengers with tickets to Irbil will be rebooked on other airlines.
Irbil and the surrounding Kurdish enclave are generally safer than many other parts of Iraq, though militants have clashed with Kurdish security forces on the edges of the largely autonomous Kurdish region.
Irbil has attracted much of the international investment that has flowed into Iraq following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
Large portions of northern and western Iraq have been overrun by the Islamic State militant group and its allies. They have seized large amounts of military hardware, raising concerns about the safety of traversing Iraqi airspace — a key corridor for flights in and out of Dubai and other booming Gulf hubs.
Emirates recently said it was taking precautionary measures and rerouting flights around Iraqi airspace following the shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines plane over Ukraine in June. Several European carriers including Virgin Atlantic, KLM and Air France have also reworked flight plans as a precaution against possible militant strikes.
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