Adam Schreck| Associated Press
DUBAI: Several airlines suspended flights to Baghdad Tuesday after a passenger plane arriving from the Mideast’s busiest airport in Dubaicame under fire as it landed in the Iraqi capital.
A prolonged disruption in flights could seriously limit travel options for Iraqi travelers and overseas businesspeople, diplomats and aid workers who rely on foreign carriers to deliver them to larger international transit hubs, particularly in the oil-rich Gulf.
Iraqi Transportation Minister Bayan Jabr said authorities believe the shooting was unintentional – possibly from someone firing off rounds at a social event such as a wedding or funeral – but they are not ruling out the possibility that it was an intentional terrorist attack.
He said three rounds struck the plane, including one that penetrated the passenger cabin, and that a girl onboard was slightly wounded.
Security was tightened around the airport after the shooting. Officials have examined the location from where they believe the shots were fired, Jabr said, as he urged airlines to resume flights to Iraq.
Discount carrier flydubai said flight 215 was struck on the fuselage by what appeared to small-arms fire as it touched down Monday. All passengers were able to disembark normally and none required medical attention at the airport, the Dubai government-owned carrier said.
Passengers heading back to Dubai were put on a different plane. A flydubai flight due to depart to Baghdad Tuesday has been canceled. The airline later said it was working with authorities to determine what happened but the damage “at this early stage appears to be non-intentional.”
The Emirati Foreign Affairs Ministry summoned the Iraqi ambassador to express its concern over the shooting and demanded that Iraqi authorities launch a “comprehensive investigation … and take necessary measures to enforce international agreements on civil aviation safety,” according to a ministry statement.
Dubai-based Emirates, the region’s biggest airline, said it is suspending flights to and from the Iraqi capital because of “operational and safety concerns” until further notice. Emirates will continue to fly to the northern Iraqi city of Irbil and the southern oil hub of Basra.
Etihad Airways, based in the Emirati capital of Abu Dhabi, said it also was suspending its Baghdad service indefinitely following a directive from the Gulf country’s civil aviation authority. Budget carrier Air Arabia, based in the emirate of Sharjah, near Dubai, also confirmed it was suspending flights.
Other regional airlines followed suit. Both Gulf Air, the national carrier of the island Kingdom of Bahrain, and Lebanon’s Middle East Airlines canceled their Tuesday flights to Baghdad.
Baghdad International Airport is surrounded by a vast and heavily guarded security perimeter lined with concrete blast walls, making it difficult for insurgents to fire on incoming planes.
Several airlines rerouted flights that pass through Iraqi airspace but aren’t bound for the country last year as a precaution against ISIS militants, who have seized large parts of northern and western Iraq.