12/29/2017, 10.05
IRAQ

Ban extended on international flights to Iraqi Kurdistan

The Iraqi authorities have extended the ban until February 28th. Only internal connections still active. Central authorities want to keep pressure on the regional leadership. Kurdish Premier: "Collective punishment" imposed by Baghdad.

Erbil (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The Iraqi authorities have extended the ban on international flights to the autonomous region of Kurdistan until February. The provision is part of the punitive measures - including the delay in payments for Public Administration employees - decided by Baghdad in response to September’s controversial independence vote, promoted and supported by leaders in Erbil.

For months the central authorities have cut off air connections between Kurdistan and the outside world.

The ban was imposed following  the independence referendum in the Northern Autonomous Region, which was held on 25 September and ended with an overwhelming victory (over 90%) for the yes vote. The vote triggered heavy clashes between Iraqi army and Kurdish militia (Peshmerga) broke out in the context of a rapid advanceof governmental militaries in territories - including Kirkuk – long  controlled by the Kurds. 

The vote was also held in the controversial territory of Kirkuk. Baghdad said the referendum - which faced international opposition, except for Israel - was illegal. The Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako intervened  in a letter renewed the call for dialogue between the parties against the danger of "new conflicts”.

The blockade of international flights is just one of the punitive measures adopted by Baghdad against Erbil, in an attempt to frustrate the outcome of the vote. The federal forces have also seized numerous oil wells, which represented a fundamental resource for the coffers of the autonomous region.

Talar Faiq Saleh, director of Erbil International Airport, reports that the Baghdad Ministry of Transport has sent an official communication stating that "international flights are banned until 28 February". "Only internal domestic flights are authorized".

The two months extension underpins the Iraqi government's aim to keep up the pressure on Kurdistan and strengthen the grip on the economy of the region, already tried by months of difficulty. The crisis situation has triggered a series of street protests in the main Kurdistan localities and, in particular, in the Sulaymaniyya governorate. The demonstrators stormed and set fire to several party sites.

The Kurdish premier Nechirvan Barzani yesterday spoke out against what he called a "collective punishment imposed by the central government on all the people of Kurdistan". He criticised the central authorities in Baghdad for using the air blockade to exert "pressure" on the northern region in view of the negotiations between the two sides.

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