Baghdad Lifts Air Blockade off Kurdistan Airports

Baghdad Lifts Air Blockade off Kurdistan Airports

Tuesday, 13 March, 2018 - 11:30
Baghdad has lifted the air blockade off the Kurdistan region's airports. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat
Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi announced on Tuesday that the Baghdad government was ending its nearly six-month air blockade on Iraqi Kurdistan.

The airports of Erbil and Sulaimaniyah would again be "open to international flights", he said in a statement.

Federal authorities imposed the blockade in September after Iraqi Kurdistan voted overwhelmingly for independence in a non-binding referendum rejected as illegal by the central government.

The decision to lift the flight ban was made "after local Kurdish authorities accepted that central authorities retake control of the two airports," the statement said.

The formal lifting of the blockade will take place in the next few days, Abadi's spokesman Saad al-Hadithi told AFP.

"This will depend on how long it takes for employees of the central government to start working in the airports," he said.

International flights are expected to resume within a week, said a decree issued by Abadi.

It announced the creation of a new Directorate for Special Protection for the airports of the Kurdistan Region, "which will be under the command and control of the Federal Ministry of the Interior".

Federal customs authorities will supervise the "introduction, production and handling of materials and equipment through the two airports", the decree said.

It also specified that the biometric system used in the Kurdistan Region's airports will be linked with the federal system.

It was not immediately clear whether the region would continue to maintain its independent visa system.

Since the flight ban went into force, all Kurdistan-bound international flights have been rerouted to Baghdad, which also imposed entry visas to foreigners wishing to visit the Kurdish region. This hit the region's economy, with a decrease in tourism and travel affecting local businesses.

International flights to and from the region's two main airports have been halted since September 29, part of sanctions imposed on the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region after it conducted the independence vote in defiance of Baghdad's wishes.

The flight ban was part of a battery of penalties inflicted on the Kurds as Baghdad sought to nullify the poll, with federal forces also seizing disputed oil-rich regions.

Iraq's Kurds overwhelmingly backed independence from federal Iraq in the September 25 vote.

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