Iraq imposes flight ban on Kurdistan over disputed independence



ERBIL, IRAQ, Resala al-Sharkani and Ramadan Al-Fatash (dpa) - A ban on international flights to and from Iraq's Kurdistan, imposed by the central government in Baghdad, went into effect Friday as part of the backlash against the autonomous region's vote on independence earlier this week.
The ban began at 6 pm (1500 GMT) at the airports of Kurdistan's capital Erbil and its second city of Sulaimaniya.



Several international carriers said they halted their flights to the Kurdish region on Baghdad's request.
Baghdad had given Kurdistan until Friday to hand over control of its airports or face a flight ban, a demand rejected by the territory's government.
The Iraqi government said on Friday the ban does not affect domestic flights and that international flights to and from the Kurdish region would resume if the central government assumes control of the territory's airports.
The ban also does not cover military aircraft, the head of Erbil airport, Talar Faeq, said shortly before the measure went into effect.
Erbil is a hub for a US-led air coalition engaged in fighting the Islamic State extremist militia in Iraq.
Faeq criticized the flight ban.
"Civil aviation is meant to be an independent institution, not dragged into political matters," she said at a press conference in Erbil.
"Erbil airport has always been under the supervision of Iraqi civil aviation and has fully complied with all requirements and instructions from the Iraqi authorities," Faeq added, according to Kurdish news website Rudaw.
"We do not understand yet what the things are that the airport has not implemented," Faeq said.
There has been an exodus from Kurdistan this week of foreigners who fear they won't be able to leave after Friday.
The Kurdish regional government also rejected Baghdad's demand that it hand over the control of Kurdistan's land border crossings to central government, Rudaw reported, citing an unnamed official.
Kurdistan has condemned Baghdad's measures, calling them "unlawful" and "collective punishment."
Baghdad has defended the moves.
The office of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said demands for the handover of Kurdistan's air and land entry-exit points were designed to regulate the movement of people and goods, and prevent smuggling.
"The central government's control over these facilities is not aimed at starving the territory's people as some Kurdistan officials claim," al-Abadi's office added in a statement on Friday.
Iraqi Kurdistan held the independence referendum on Monday, in defiance of international opposition.
More than 92 per cent of those who cast ballots voted for independence, a long-held dream for many Iraqi Kurds.
The referendum was also held in disputed areas between Erbil and Baghdad, including the oil-rich province of Kirkuk.
The plebiscite has also angered Iraq's neighbours - Turkey, Iran and Syria - who are concerned it could encourage their own Kurdish minorities to break away. Turkey has threatened to close down an oil pipeline used by Kurdistan for exports.
Ankara announced that it would join the flight ban on Kurdistan "indefinitely."
The decision covers Turkish Airlines as well as private carriers Pegasus and Atlas Global flights to Erbil and Sulaimaniya.
Turkey could send private planes to bring any citizens who failed to leave on time back home, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told reporters on Friday.
The US and other countries fear that Kurdistan's vote and its fallout will distract attention from ongoing campaigns against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.
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Friday, September 29th 2017
Resala al-Sharkani and Ramadan Al-Fatash
           


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