Iraq Steps up Efforts to Isolate Kurdistan, Halts All Flights to Erbil

Published September 28th, 2017 - 11:12 GMT
Iraq has ordered international airlines to halt services to Erbil, the Kurdish capital, and Sulaimaniyah, its second city, beginning Friday evening. (Ozak Kose/ AFP)
Iraq has ordered international airlines to halt services to Erbil, the Kurdish capital, and Sulaimaniyah, its second city, beginning Friday evening. (Ozak Kose/ AFP)

Iraq piled pressure on Iraq’s Kurds Wednesday, demanding they cancel their overwhelming vote for independence while Parliament urged the Iraqi central government to send troops to take control of vital oil fields held by Kurdish forces.

Stepping up efforts to isolate autonomous Kurdish-held northern Iraq, which backed secession in a referendum Monday that angered neighboring countries, Baghdad demanded that foreign governments close their diplomatic missions in the Kurdish capital, Erbil.

Final results released Wednesday showed nearly 93 percent in favor of independence, and 7.3 percent against. More than 3.3 million people, or 72 percent of eligible voters, took part in Monday’s ballot, according to the electoral commission.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi  has ordered the Kurdish region to hand over control of its airports to federal authorities by Friday, threatening a flight ban if they refuse. Iraq’s Transport Ministry has ordered international airlines to halt service to Erbil, the Kurdish regional capital, and Sulaimaniyah, its second city, beginning Friday evening.

Airlines from Turkey as well as Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon said Wednesday they will, at the request of Baghdad, halt flights to and from Iraqi Kurdistan this week until further notice. Low-cost airline FlyDubai says its flights to Erbil are in question from Saturday.

The Kurds consider Monday’s referendum, which is widely opposed by the international community, to be a historic step in a generations-old quest for a state of their own.

Iraq considers the vote unconstitutional, especially as it was held not only within the Kurdish region itself but also on disputed territory held by Kurds elsewhere in northern Iraq.

The outcome of the referendum has caused anger in Baghdad, where Parliament, in a session boycotted by Kurdish lawmakers, asked Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to send troops to the Kurdish-held region of Kirkuk to take control of its oilfields.

Abadi is under pressure to take punitive measures against the Kurds. Hard-line Iranian-backed Shiite groups have already threatened to march on Kirkuk.


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