Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi speaking at a press conference on Tuesday.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Baghdad may lift the international flight ban on the Kurdistan Region and send salaries for the KRG ministries that have been audited before the Newroz holiday, the prime minister announced on Tuesday.
“Inshallah we will pay the Region’s salaries and re-open the airports before Newroz,” Haider al-Abadi said in a press conference, later repeating, “Inshallah soon, maybe before Newroz.”
Newroz, the Kurdish new year, is celebrated on March 21.
Clarifying that payments may begin soon only in the ministries that have been completely audited, health and education, Abadi said, “The audit will continue but we will pay salaries according to what we have finished.”
Baghdad has stated it would pay the Kurdistan Region’s public sector salaries, but only after the employee lists were audited, citing concern about bloated employee rolls and corruption.
Abadi said that difficulties arose because the KRG has a separate salary system to the rest of Iraq and Baghdad does not have its own data on the Region’s employees.
The central government has tasked auditing committees with reviewing the KRG’s payroll lists, gathered through biometric registration, beginning with the health and education ministries. The audits of these ministries are complete and the auditors have stated they have concerns about three percent of the data.
Speaking earlier this week, KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani pledged
to pay public sector salaries whatever the cost.
"We will distribute salaries from the revenues we have and what we receive, regardless of how much it is,” he said.
Abadi said that the central government will pay just a “portion of the Region’s salaries, and they will pay the rest,” noting that the Kurdistan Region exports more than 300,000 bpd of oil, “which is 10 percent of Iraqi oil exports.”
Erbil and Baghdad have each provided different figures
for the Region’s oil exports. In January, KRG spokesperson Safeen Dizayee said the Kurdistan Region was exporting an average of 265,970 barrels after losing the Kirkuk oil fields in October. He was responding to an earlier claim by Abadi that the KRG was exporting as much as 450,000 daily in October.
Oil is one of the most contentious issues in the fractured relationship between Erbil and Baghdad. Relations plummeted after the Kurdistan vote for independence last fall and Baghdad imposed a series of measures aimed at enforcing federal control over the autonomous region, including taking control of the disputed areas.
A ban on international flights in and out of Erbil and Sulaimani airports was one of the measures that the KRG has described as punitive.
As talks between the two governments have progressed in 2018, Baghdad last month granted permission
for international flights to take off and land from Kurdistan Region airports for those traveling to Saudi Arabia for the Umrah pilgrimage.
Sulaimani International Airport announced on Tuesday that its first Umrah flight will take off on Wednesday, March 7 with authorization from Iraq’s aviation authority.
“Other than this we have not received any other decree for other international flights,” a statement from the airport read, confirming that the flight ban remains in place.
A flight from Sulaimani to Jedda is scheduled for 2:00 am Wednesday morning.
No scheduled Umrah flights are listed on the website of Erbil International Airport.