Isolating Baghdad

Shooting incident at Baghdad Airport has isolated the Iraqi capital further, prompting many airlines to stop flights.

    Isolating Baghdad
    Several major international airlines have suspended flights to Baghdad after a shooting incident there [Reuters]

    "The airport has always been a redline for me. If that gets hit, I'm really going to have to reconsider my travel to the country."

    Those words don't come from a man who scares easily. Speaking privately to me, this former US military officer summed up the fears of many, fears that have been realised this week in the shooting incident at Baghdad International Airport.

    It's still unclear whether the incident was a live fire exercise gone wrong, a sniper or random gunfire, but the effect it has had is clear. All major airlines have suspended operations to Baghdad until at least February 5, isolating the capital further.

    For Baghdad, this is a disaster.

    Ali Saddiq, a businessman, frequently travels in and out of Baghdad: "My friends in the international business community are already nervous about dealing with businesses in Baghdad. There's a lot of red tape, and confidence in the market is already low. The government promised us that security of the airport would never be compromised, but this incident shows us that is a shallow promise."

    For the airlines, the decision to suspend flights was a relatively simple one. The UAE was first and, through it's Civil Aviation Authority, ‎directed all airlines based in the country to stop flying. Once that happened others followed suit.

    Often the decision is based on number of factors that included reputation for safety, cost of aircraft and safety of passengers and crew.

    But in other cases, politics can play a factor. For example, relations between Iraq and Saudi Arabia have been strained since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1991. Both sides are now working to slowly rebuild those relations, but Saudi Airlines, the national flag carrier, hasn't flown to Iraq for a number of years and is unlikely to until relations are improved.

    But beyond international politics, an attack on the airport will be a significant victory for groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

    We know that the airport is a strategic target for ISIL fighters. To the west of the airport, in Anbar province, ISIL controls large parts of Iraqi terrority and it regularly mounts attacks near the airport.

    In recent months, airport security has been mentioned by both American and Iraqi officials. For the US, it's a crucial supply line for the advisers based in the country.

    The Ministry of Interior spokesman, Saad Maan, is clear that securing Baghdad airport is a priority: "The Ministries of Interior and Defence are‎ working closely to achieve tangible results. But when the enemy chooses to hide in civilian areas, that poses a significant security challenge."

    His words will do little to bring back confidence in Baghdad airport security procedures and right now, internationally, Baghdad is just a little bit more isolated than it was before.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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