ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Baghdad has “abused its authority” in its threat to shut Kurdistan’s airports, said the director of Erbil International Airport, Talar Faeq. And Kurdistan Region’s transport minister has refused to abide by the decision.
"The decision made by Baghdad is wrong and illegal. It is wrong because the laws they have cited and indeed the ICAO [International Civil Aviation Organization] law does not give such permission to any authority,” Faeq told reporters in Erbil on Wednesday afternoon.
Authorities in Baghdad have “abused their authority,” she added.
Baghdad authorities have said domestic flights could continue while international ones would be stopped, Faeq explained. She asserted that such a move is illegal as Baghdad cannot legally allow some airlines access to Kurdistan’s airports and deny it to others.
The Kurdistan Region’s minister of transportation refused to hand over Erbil and Sulaimani airports to Baghdad, describing their decision as “a huge blow to the reputation of the civic aviation of Iraq.”
“If this decision is meant to punish the people of Kurdistan for holding a referendum on its independence and deciding its fate, no talks with [Baghdad] will reach a conclusion," said Minister Maulood Bawa Murad, noting that Kurdistan’s two airports are already operating under the supervision of Iraq’s civic aviation authority.
He said the decision will directly affect the lives of many people as the two airports are transportation hubs for humanitarian aid, patients, students, diaspora, and diplomatic missions.
The airports are also an important landing and "hot spot" destination for warplanes of the US-led coalition in the fight against ISIS, Murad said.
He noted that construction of both airports was paid from the Kurdistan Regional Government’s budget.
The head of Erbil’s airport believes the ban will be temporary one. “I do not think they can make this work. Even if they are able to do it for a period of time, I do not think it is going to be long,” Faeq said.
The Turkish consulate has announced they will abide by Iraq’s decision suspending flights as of 6pm on Friday. Turkish Airlines, AtlasGlobal, and Pegasus flights to Erbil and Sulaimani will, therefore, end on Friday, the consulate stated on its website. Until the ban is in effect, the airlines will work to increase capacity on their flights, the statement added.
Qatar Airways will continue operations “as long as airways are open and that we can transport our passengers safely,” CEO Akbar Al Baker told reporters, Reuters reported.
The Lebanese Middle East Airlines (MEA) announced they will comply with Iraq’s order. They will increase their flights to Erbil until the ban comes into effect to ensure they do not leave behind any Lebanese citizen who wants to leave the Kurdistan Region, MEA head Mohamad A. El-Hout told Lebanon’s LBC media outlet.
Royal Jordanian has announced they will be halting all flights to Erbil and Sulaimani. The airline operates 10 weekly flights to Erbil and three weekly flights to Sulaimaini. The suspension will start at 6 pm local Amman time on Friday.
Egypt's flag carrier EgyptAir will suspend flights to and from Erbil International Airport beginning on Friday, two company sources said.
Budget carrier FlyDubai has said it will suspend all flights to and from Erbil starting on Saturday.
Iran suspended all flights to the Kurdistan Region on Sunday, one day before the vote.
Domestic flights are not affected so travelers willing to enter the Kurdistan Region after Friday evening may be able to route their trips through Baghdad or other Iraqi airports.
On Tuesday, Iraq’s Council of Ministers decided to bring the Kurdistan Region’s airports under central control. Abadi announced, “We decided to halt all airlines, travel, and the landing of planes from regional and world countries at Erbil and Sulaimani airports, and vice versa. The decision will be implemented within three days,” by Friday evening.
Humanitarian and emergency flights will not be affected provided they obtain prior approval from Baghdad.
The flight ban is just one of the moves Baghdad has taken against the Kurdistan Region in the wake of the independence referendum.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi demanded on Wednesday the outcome of the vote be cancelled. He said they will not allow any one party to take a “unilateral” decision.
“We will enforce federal authority in the Kurdistan Region and we have already begun doing that,” Abadi said, bringing the autonomous region under control by “the force of law and the constitution.”
PM Abadi warned earlier this month that Kurdistan Region will “lose” all it has achieved since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The dominant Shiite group in Baghdad has said Kurdistan’s independence referendum “has exceeded all red lines” and must not be ignored in Iraq “like other moves” made by the autonomous government. The statement came from the head of the ruling Shiite National Alliance Ammar al-Hakim said Wednesday evening.
The US, while condemning Kurdistan’s independence referendum, said that moves by Baghdad like the flight ban are not constructive and urged Iraqi authorities to engage in discussion with Kurds.
Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani also condemned the flight ban.
“This is the collective punishment of the people of Kurdistan. What Abadi declared is the collective punishment of all the people of Kurdistan,” Barzani said on Monday, responding to Baghdad's measures to take control of Kurdistan's border points and airports.
He invited Abadi to visit the airports and see for himself what is happening there.
“We have nothing to hide,” Barzani said. He added that the Kurdish airports are used to host the 1.8 million displaced Iraqis who were not allowed to visit Baghdad when they fled their homes caused by the war against ISIS.
Kurdistan Region has two international airports – in Erbil and Sulaimani.
Last updated at 9:04 pm