Iraqi Kurdistan will not bow to a demand from the central government to hand over the autonomous region’s airports currently under a flight ban imposed by Baghdad, a Kurdish official said on Saturday.
A ban on international flights to and from Iraqi Kurdistan went into effect on Friday as part of Baghdad’s backlash against the territory’s unilateral independence vote held earlier last week.
Baghdad said the flights would resume if the central government assumes control of Kurdistan’s airports.
“We will not allow even one single person from Iraq, from the Iraqi civil aviation, or from the office of the [Iraqi] Council of Ministers to come to Erbil and Sulaimaniya international airports without our decision,” Kurdistan’s Minister of Transport Mawlood Bawa Murad said.
“We are running the airports,” he
the Kurdish parliament.
Bawa Murad called the ban “unlawful” and a “political punishment.”
Baghdad has said that its demands for the handover of Kurdistan’s air and land entry and exit points were designed to regulate the movement of people and goods.
Iraqi Kurdistan held the referendum last Monday, in defiance of Baghdad’s warnings.
More than 92 per cent of those who cast ballots voted for independence, a long-held dream for many Iraqi Kurds. 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.
The row has triggered international concerns that it will distract attention from ongoing military campaigns against the IS extremist militia in Iraq and Syria.
Earlier, the Iraqi government cut autonomous Kurdistan’s direct air links with the outside world indefinitely on Friday, partially isolating the northern region after it voted a massive “yes” in an independence referendum.
The move increases the pressure on the Iraqi Kurds amid soaring regional tensions following Monday’s non-binding but deeply contentious vote.
Washington said it did not recognise the “unilateral” referendum and urged all parties to reject the use of force and engage in dialogue.
“The vote and the results lack legitimacy and we continue to support a united, federal, democratic and prosperous Iraq,” US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement.
The central government in Baghdad had ordered the halt to all foreign flights to and from the autonomous Kurdish region from 6:00 pm (15:00 GMT) on Friday.
Foreigners scrambled to fly out of the region’s capital Erbil and its second largest city Sulaimaniyah before the ban took effect.
Iraqi Kurdish transport minister Mawlud Bawa Murad said that the ban would “negatively impact all businesses in the Kurdistan region, in addition to all civilians, from all nations”. It would “negatively impact our daily life,” he said. “We will do our best to find a viable alternative, or succeed to bring back international flights.” — Agencies