Security Concerns Behind Baghdad Flight Suspensions

Middle Eastern airlines Royal Jordanian and Gulf Air have suspended flights to Baghdad International Airport (BGW) over security concerns. Royal Jordanian is the only commercial airline with regularly scheduled flights to Baghdad, with 18 scheduled flights between Queen Alia International Airport (AMM) in Amman and the Iraqi capital.

As tensions rise between the U.S.A. and Iran, Royal Jordanian has suspended flights to Baghdad. Photo: Royal Jordanian

In a statement addressing the airline’s concerns regarding its Baghdad flights, it also said that flights to the Iraqi cities of Irbil, Basra, and Sulaymaniyah would not be affected by the suspension and would be operating as normal.

Gulf Air has also suspended flights to Bagdad

Following Royal Jordanian’s lead, Bahrain national flag carrier Gulf Air said it was suspending flights to and from Baghdad until further notice. The Gulf carrier made the announcement on its Twitter feed and, unlike Royal Jordanian, also canceled flights to Najaf.

So far, Oneworld alliance member Royal Jordanian and state-owned Gulf Air are the only two airlines to announce the suspension of flights to the Iraqi capital.

Gulf Air has suspended all flights to Baghdad. Photo: Gulf Air

When asked by the New Straits Times if they would be suspending flights to Baghdad, a spokesperson for Qatar Airways said the airline was still flying to Baghdad “with caution.”

“If any slight change we may cancel — slight change meaning escalation,” he said.

Why are airlines suspending flights to Baghdad?

The answer to this question is simple and boils down to uncertainty following an American drone strike that killed a top Iranian general at Iraq’s Baghdad airport on Friday.

According to the BBC, Qasem Soleimani was the leader of Iran’s elite Quds Force and was in charge of their Middle East operations, geared at spreading Iran’s influence in the region.

Following the general’s death, Iran has promised to take “severe revenge” according to a statement by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei carried by the BBC that read:

“His departure to God does not end his path or his mission, but a forceful revenge awaits the criminals who have his blood and the blood of the other martyrs last night on their hands.”

In other related news, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations Majid Takht Ravanchi delivered a letter to the Security Council that said Tehran reserved the right to self-defense under international law.

So why are airlines worried about flying into Baghdad?

Firstly and foremost, America violated the terms of the agreement they have regarding a military presence in Iraq, something Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi labeled as being a “brazen violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and a blatant attack on the nation’s dignity.”

Made up of predominantly Shia Muslims just like neighboring Iran, the Tehran regime supports several Shia militia groups in Iraq.

It is these militia groups that the United States blames for a recent rocket attack that killed an American contractor and the attempted storming of the American Embassy in Baghdad’s “Green Zone.”

The believed Iraqi orchestrator of the recent events, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, was also killed in the drone strike, adding further to the tensions.

Royal Jordanian is worried about the fallout from the American drone strike. Photo: Royal Jordanian

Royal Jordanian and Gulf Air are expecting some kind of revenge from Iran and do not want to put their aircraft, crew and passengers at risk.

As the situation develops it will be interesting to see if airlines have started to avoid the airspace over the Strait of Hormuz as they did last June following the Iranian downing of an American drone.

Avoiding Baghdad, for now, is probably a prudent move by Royal Jordanian and Gulf Air. What do you think? Please let us know in the comments.