Sun, Oct 01, 2017 - Page 4 News List

Iraq cuts all Kurdistan air links with outside world

AFP, ARBIL

Kurdish people protest outside the Erbil International Airport on Friday in Erbil, Iraq.

Photo: Reuters

The Iraqi government on Friday cut autonomous Kurdistan’s direct air links with the outside world indefinitely, partially isolating the 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 recognize 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 6pm on Friday.

Foreigners scrambled to fly out of the region’s capital Arbil and its second-largest city Sulaimaniyah before the ban took effect.

Washington said earlier it would be willing to facilitate talks between the Iraqi Kurdish authorities and Baghdad to calm escalating tensions over the 92 percent “yes” vote.

Neighboring Turkey and Iran also strongly opposed the vote, fearing it would inflame the separatist aspirations of their own sizeable Kurdish populations.

Ankara has threatened a series of measures, including blocking lifeline oil exports from the region via Turkey.

The Kurds, whose borders with Turkey, Iran and Syria remain open, have condemned the flight suspension as “collective punishment.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said it was not “punishment,” but a legal measure that would be reversed if the transport authority was transferred to Baghdad in line with the Iraqi constitution.

Iraqi Kurdistan is home to a large international community, most of whom enter on a visa issued by the regional authorities that is not recognized by the central government, so they cannot travel elsewhere in Iraq.

Erbil International Airport director Talar Faiq Salih said that humanitarian, military and diplomatic flights were excluded from the ban.

Earlier, the UN’s Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said it was working to ensure that aid could continue to reach tens of thousands of needy Iraqis.

“There have been masses of people for two days,” airport spokesman Dana Mohammad Said said, adding that it remained open for domestic flights.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s highest Shiite religious authority, called for all sides “to abide by the Iraqi constitution and to appeal to High Federal Court to solve the Kurdistan crisis.”

“The latest political developments should not have a negative impact on the strong relationship between sons of the homeland, Arabs, Turkmen, Kurds and others,” his representative said.

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