The Iraqi government on Friday suspended international flights to and from the autonomous region of Kurdistan in response to the referendum – held in defiance of Baghdad – that saw the Kurds vote in favor of independence.
The suspension came into force after Kurdistan refused to comply with the order to hand over control of the Erbil and Suleimaniya international airports to the Iraqi federal government, Efe reports.
The measure only affects international flights, so air links with the rest of Iraq remain intact.
Neither will the ban apply to military or humanitarian flights, the director of the Kurdistan international airport, Talar Faiq, told a press conference.
The office of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said that the suspension of international flights to Kurdistan would be maintained until the government of the autonomous region ceded control of the airports to Baghdad.
“The federal government control over land and aerial entrances to Kurdistan is not meant to cause starvation, hold supplies or besiege citizens, as some officials of the region claim,” the statement said.
“They are measures for the entrance and departure of commodities and people under the control of the federal government and the federal regulatory bodies, as apply in all Iraqi checkpoints to stop prevent smuggling and corruption,” it added.
Hours before the suspension came into force, the Erbil airport was crowded with passengers waiting to leave the northern region, which borders Turkey, Iran and Syria – countries with substantial Kurdish minorities of their own.
Salem Munji, a Turkish national who works at a construction company, told EFE that Turkey’s government warned its citizens to leave northern Iraq out of fear of escalation.
The suspension of international flights to and from Kurdish airports is a measure taken in response to the independence referendum held in Kurdistan on Monday.
Kurdish officials said that more than 92 per cent of the 4 million people who cast ballots voted “yes.”