Iraq has extended the ban on international flights to and from the Kurdistan Region until February 28, 2018, a day after Iraqi Interior Minister Qasim al-Araji was quoted as saying that he would request the Iraqi prime minister end the flight ban.
KRG’s acting Minister of Transport Mawlud Bawamurad told Rudaw that the extended flight ban affects both Erbil and Sulaimani international airports.
“It is unfortunate that the Iraqi government issued this decision while we were expecting talks to begin to solve the problems,” Bawamurad told Rudaw.
Erbil International Airport received notice of the extension on Wednesday. Tahir Abdullah, chief of Sulaimani International Airport, told Rudaw on Wednesday evening that they have not received any official letter regarding the ban extension.
The initial flight ban was due to expire on December 29.
KRG’s minister of transport and the head of Erbil International Airport were not immediately available to comment.
Military, diplomatic, and humanitarian flights, as well as those of the United Nations are exempted from the ban, but subject to approval from Iraqi authorities.
Iraq’s aviation authority imposed the flight ban on September 29 on orders from the Iraqi government as part of a series of punitive measures taken by the central government against the KRG after the independence vote.
The KRG has described the flight ban as “collective punishment” that discriminates against Iraq’s Kurdish population.
People in the Kurdistan Region who want to travel abroad must first take domestic flights to Iraqi airports. Many people have chosen to travel by land into Turkey and take international flights from there.
KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said last week that they are ready to cooperate with the federal government on joint administration of international entry points, including the airports.
“The Kurdistan Region is fully prepared from this day to form that joint administration at the airports, the border crossings, and solve that problem, according to the Iraqi constitution,” Barzani said last Thursday.
Iraq’s interior minister said on Monday in a meeting with a Kurdish delegation in Baghdad that he would request the re-opening of Erbil and Sulaimani airports saying political disputes should not be mingled with individuals’ affairs, according to a Kurdish official.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Tuesday that the KRG’s international border strip must be under “exclusive” Iraqi control. He conceded though that the Iraqi constitution allows for both governments to jointly run international entry points such as the airports.
“There is a difference between the border strip and border entry points,” Abadi said.
He also said that they have agreed with the KRG to begin what he termed technical talks that may be followed by political dialogue at a later stage.
The KRG has offered to freeze the outcome of the independence vote held on September 25 in exchange for open dialogue with Baghdad in light of the Iraqi constitution. Erbil has also expressed that it “respects” all rulings of the Iraqi Federal Court that concluded secession is “unconstitutional” and that the outcome of the referendum is null and void.