Iraq suspends flights to north due to Russian air campaign in neighboring Syria

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BAGHDAD — Iraq's Civil Aviation Authority has suspended flights to the northern Kurdish self-ruled region for two days starting Monday due to Russia's air campaign in neighboring Syria, a statement said.

The statement, which was issued late Sunday, said the flight suspension to the cities of Irbil and Sulaimaniyah is to "protect travelers" as cruise missiles and bombers cross northern Iraq from the Caspian Sea to Syria. It said airports in other parts of the country will operate normally.

Russia began airstrikes in Syria on Sept. 30 in support of President Bashar Assad's forces, adding a new dimension to the complex war that has torn apart the country since 2011. Last month, its warships in the Caspian Sea fired cruise missiles nearly 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) over Iran and Iraq.

Russia says its intervention is aimed at helping the Syrian government defeat the Islamic State group, but local activists and U.S. officials say the strikes have also targeted Western-backed rebels fighting to overthrow Assad. The Russian strikes have allowed Syrian troops to advance on some fronts.

In September, an intelligence sharing center was set up in Baghdad by Russia, Iraq, Iran and Syria to coordinate efforts to combat the Islamic State group.

A U.S.-led coalition is also striking the Islamic State group in Syria, but is not coordinating its efforts with Assad or Russia, beyond communicating with Moscow in order to prevent midair mishaps.

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