Iraq blocks international flights to KRG in retaliation for independence vote

Reuters Agency

International flights to and from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) were set to end from 6:00 p.m. (1500 GMT) on Friday, after the central government imposed a ban in retaliation for the region's vote for independence.

Almost all foreign airlines suspended flights to the airports of Erbil and Sulaimaniya, in compliance with a notice from the government in Baghdad, which has control over the country's airspace.

Turkey, Egypt and Lebanon-based airlines will also suspend all flights from and to Northern Iraq from 6:00 p.m. (1500 GMT) on Sept. 29. Thus, many people living in Erbil want to leave the region before the flight ban starts.

Turkish Foreign Ministry warns citizens to leave region

The Foreign Ministry in an official statement on Thursday advised all Turkish citizens to leave Erbil and Sulaymaniyah as soon as possible. The ministry, considering the great amount of people who want to return, stated that the flight capacity for Erbil and Sulaymaniyah would be increased.

The statement said that citizens should leave the region before the flights are suspended unless it is obligatory for them to stay in the KRG. Qatar also stated that they will suspend all flights to the Northern Iraq and join the air blockade.

Lufthansa and Austrian were the only carriers to have kept at least one flight still scheduled after the deadline. But a spokesman for Lufthansa Group said on Friday morning it was checking whether it would have to cancel flights.

Lufthansa flies once a week to Erbil on Saturdays, while its unit Austrian Airlines flies daily.

Domestic flights are still permitted to and from the KRG, and so travellers are expected to get there mostly by transiting via Baghdad's airport, which will come under strain from the extra traffic.

KRG airports handle 40 to 50 percent of Iraq's total international traffic, Taher Abdallah, Sulaimaniya airport's director general, told reporters on Wednesday.

Check-in operations at Erbil's international airport were running smoothly on Friday morning and there was no sign of disruption.

Iraq's Kurds endorsed secession by nine to one in a vote on Monday that angered Baghdad and other governments who fear the referendum could lead to renewed conflict in the region.

The United Nations and United States have both offered to help mediate between the KRG and Baghdad.