Baghdad ends air blockade of Iraqi Kurdistan


Baghdad: Iraqi authorities said Tuesday they were lifting a nearly six-month air blockade imposed on Iraqi Kurdistan in response to its holding of an independence referendum.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a statement the airports of Arbil and Sulaimaniyah would again be “open to international flights”.

Federal authorities imposed the blockade in September after Iraqi Kurdistan voted overwhelmingly for independence in a non-binding referendum rejected as illegal by the central government.

It was extended in December for two months and renewed in February for another possible three months.

The decision to lift the flight ban was made “after local Kurdish authorities accepted that central authorities retake control of the two airports,” the statement said.

The formal lifting of the blockade will take place in the next few days, Abadi’s spokesman Saad al-Hadithi told AFP.

“This will depend on how long it takes for employees of the central government to start working in the airports,” he said.

Since the flight ban went into force, all Kurdistan-bound international flights have been rerouted to Baghdad, which also imposed entry visas to foreigners wishing to visit the Kurdish region.

The flight ban was part of a battery of penalties inflicted on the Kurds as Baghdad sought to nullify the poll, with federal forces also seizing disputed oil-rich regions.