German airline Lufthansa has temporarily diverted its flights away from Iraqi skies. Earlier, several other airlines rerouted their flights due to concerns that militants in Iraq have weapons that can shoot down planes.
Lufthansa admitted on Friday that it had no concrete evidence of a threat to civilian airlines flying over Iraq, but decided to reroute its flights anyways in order to assuage the concerns of its passengers and crews.
"With this step, the company is taking into consideration the growing uneasiness of its customers and crews as well as the inconsistent assessments of individual aviation authorities," Lufthansa said in a news release.
In addition to diverting flights away from Iraqi airspace, Lufthansa also stopped all flights to the city of Erbil in the northern Kurdistan region. The precautionary measures will remain in effect until Sunday.
The decision applies to several of Lufthansa's subsidiaries: Austrian Airlines, Swiss, and Lufthansa Cargo. Until now, Lufthansa has flown to Erbil once a week, while Austrian Airlines has daily flights to the Kurdish city.
Earlier in the week, several European airlines and a Middle East carrier rerouted their flights away from Iraq, were Sunni militants have launched an offensive against the Shiite-led government. Air France, KLM, Virgin Atlantic and Dubai-based Emirates have all changed their flight paths to avoid Iraq.
Air France spokesman Eric Prevot said the company had detected a "potential threat" on July 24 which led to the decision.
Meanwhile, the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has barred American carriers from flying over Iraq at or below 30,000 feet.
There is concern that militants in Iraq might possess surface-to-air missiles capable of downing civilian planes. But the Iraqi government has said that its airspace and airports are safe.
"The Baghdad airport is highly secure," said Nassir Bandar, head of Iraq's Civil Aviation Authority. "There is no threat to airplanes passing over Iraqi skies."
Last month, a Malaysian Airlines passenger plane was downed over Eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. The US, Ukrainian and many other European governments have accused pro-Russian rebels of accidentally shooting down the plane.
The tragedy increased public scrutiny of civilian airlines flying over warzones.
slk/av (AP, AFP, dpa)