IRBIL – All foreign flights to and from the Iraqi Kurdish regional capital Irbil will be suspended from Friday evening on Baghdad’s orders, its airport director said, following a controversial independence referendum.
“All international flights without exception to and from Irbil will stop from 6:00 pm (1500 GMT) on Friday following a decision by the Iraqi cabinet and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi,” Talar Faiq Salih told AFP on Thursday.
Abadi ordered the halt to flights serving airports in Iraqi Kurdistan in retaliation for the independence referendum held on Monday in defiance of Baghdad which delivered a resounding 92.73 “yes” vote.
A large number of foreigners working in Irbil were leaving the city on Thursday for fear of being stranded with only a visa issued by the Kurdish authorities and not recognized by Baghdad.
Regional carriers, including Turkish Airlines, EgyptAir and Lebanon’s Middle East Airlines had already announced that they would be suspending their flights serving Iraqi Kurdistan at Baghdad’s request.
The Irbil airport director said she deeply regretted the decision, which she said would hamper the campaign against the Islamic State group in Iraq and neighboring Syria, as well as the delivery of aid to those displaced by it.
“We have consulates, international staff, international companies, so it’s going to affect everyone. It’s not a right decision,” Salih said.
“We have a big international community here, so this is not only against Kurdish people.
“We also have a big number of refugees using this airport and we used to be a bridge between Syria and the U.N. to send humanitarian aid to those places.
“And we are hosting [US-led] coalition forces here, so this airport is meant to be for everything.”
Salih said she had asked the Iraqi transport minister what he meant by “handing over the airports”.
“He said that he meant that all staff of security, immigration, customs should be replaced by people from Baghdad. I said: ‘Is this reasonable, or even applicable?'”