Iraq has shut down two airports in the northern Kurdish region of the country in anticipation of Russian cruise missiles crossing Iraqi airspace to hit multiple targets in neighboring Syria.
The Irbil and Suleymania airports closed down Monday for 48 hours. As a result, all commercial airlines have suspended operations to the Kurdish regional airports “until the integrity of the airspace” can be confirmed, according to a statement released by the Irbil International Airport.
Talar Faiq, director general of Irbil airport said in a statement that the Iraq Civil Aviation Authority had “warned airlines of the danger of cruise missiles flying from the Caspian Sea to Syria in the northern part of Iraq.”
Live views from Flightradar24, live flight tracker, shows most of northern Iraq free off all commercial flights, but airlines appear to continue on their regular flight paths across neighboring Iran.
Russia had launched cruise missiles against targets in Syria from its warships based in the Caspian Sea at least twice since starting its airstrike campaign eight weeks ago in addition to other bombing missions.
French warplanes took off from France's Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier for the first time Monday, aiming for Islamic State (IS) targets in Iraq and Syria.
France coordinated the strikes with Moscow to avoid crossing paths with Russian planes.
After confirming last week that a bomb brought down a Russian civilian airliner in Egypt on October 31, killing all 244 people onboard, Moscow has intensified its bombing campaign, leading some 140 bombing raids over the Nov. 21-22 weekend alone.
IS extremists claimed responsibility for the blast that brought down the Russian plane and Russia has said that most of its recent strikes are against IS targets.
But the U.S., Britain and Free Syrian Army representatives have said the majority of the bombing raids to date have targeted moderate anti-Assad rebel forces instead.
Undermining political solution
The Russian Defense Ministry on Friday released a video that purportedly shows Iranian F-14 fighter jets escorting Russian long-range bombers to their target area in Syria.
Iran and Russian have been cooperating closely in Syria with both countries supporting Syrian President Bashar al Assad who has been struggling to stay in power in a four-and-a-half year long civil war sparked by protests against his regime.
President Vladimir Putin on Monday had a 90-minute visit with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the two leaders oppose any “political settlement to be dictated from the outside” for Syria.
“Right now what Russia is doing, they are undermining our effort to reach a political settlement, and they are doing that because they are concerned primarily with propping up the failed regime of Bashar al Assad,” White House spokesman Jeff Earnest said Monday.
And Russia's strategy is can't be a winning one unless a diplomatic solution is found, says former U.S. Ambassador John Herbst.
“Mr. Putin will find in three months, six months, 12 months that the battle tide has turned against Assad despite his military presence,” he said.
On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated Washington’s position on removing Assad from power.
Any cooperation that suggested Washington was helping Assad “complicates issues, and then you will have greater support going to bad actors,” Kerry said between meetings with senior Arab officials in the United Arab Emirates.
Kerry’s visit was aimed at uniting Arab states against IS militants.
White House spokesman Earnest called on countries to ramp up their efforts to defeat IS.
“We believe there is more that can be done if countries are willing to contribute additional resources,” he said.
VOA correspondents Jeff Seldin and Aru Pande contributed to this report.