The Ambassador of the European Union to Iraq, Martin Huth, told the Lithuanian newspaper 15min and the news agency Baltic News Service on the evening of August 4 that he had received “positive signals” that flights from Iraq to Minsk National would be suspended for the next ten days due to attempts by Lithuania and the EU to cope with a surge in illegal migration via Belarus.

“We received information from several sources that flights have been cancelled for the next ten days. This seems to be very reliable information. As far as we understand, Iraqi Airways (IA, Baghdad) has informed all travel agencies in the country about this,” he said.

On August 5, a scheduled flight due to be operated from Basrah to Minsk by the state-owned flag carrier was indeed cancelled Flightradar24 ADS-B data shows. However, a flight on the same day from Baghdad to Minsk courtesy of privately owned Fly Baghdad (IF, Baghdad) operated as planned.

Flightradar24 shows that Fly Baghdad has been operating ad hoc flights between the two capital cities, while Iraqi Airways has been flying to Minsk from Baghdad, Basrah, Erbil, and Sulaymaniyah.

Also on August 5, Iraq’s Ministry of Transport confirmed in a statement, released through the National Iraqi News Agency, that Iraqi Airways had suspended its flights to Minsk as of the same day.

More than 4,000 people, mostly from Iraq, have crossed the border illegally from Belarus into EU member Lithuania so far this year. Lithuanian officials believe that the swelling migration flows have been organised by the regime of Belarus’ president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, in retaliation for Vilnius’ support for the 2020-2021 Belarusian protests and its vocal condemnation of the forced diversion in May of a Ryanair flight to Vilnius from Athens by the authorities in Minsk.

The EU has been in talks with Baghdad to return Iraqis who have recently crossed the Belarus-Lithuania border and are currently being held in a camp near Vilnius. Huth said that the Iraqi government had formed a committee to investigate the possible smuggling of Iraqi migrants into Lithuania via Belarus.

Iraq does not have an embassy in Vilnius, but on August 4, the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that its embassy in Moscow “is closely following information about an incident in which an Iraqi citizen was killed at the border between Belarus and Lithuania.” It is believed that this incident, which officials in Lithuania and Belarus have blamed on each other, could be behind the temporary reduction in flights to Minsk. The ministry has urged Iraqis not to become targets of human trafficking and smuggling networks.

Gitanas Nausėda, president of Lithuania, told 15min: “At this point, I say only this: we are ready to talk to both countries of origin and transit, but we must be ready for such negotiations because otherwise the results can be disappointing and there is no need to look far for examples.”

On August 5, Belarus’ state-run news agency BelTA reported that Lukashenka had closed the country’s land border with Lithuania altogether, without giving any indication as to when it could be reopened. “As of today, no one will be allowed to cross the border from anywhere, neither from the south nor from the west,” the president said.