An aerial view of pilgrims at Mecca’s Grand Mosque during the annual Hajj in September, 2017. Photo: Karim Sahib/AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – With the consent of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, the Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority has granted permission for international flights to depart Kurdistan Region airports for those traveling to Saudi Arabia for Umrah.
“Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi gave consent for airplanes carrying [those who do] Umrah to take off and land at the Erbil and Sulaimani international airports,” the Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority announced in an official letter.
The consent is conditional on the provision that the authorities are informed of the number of flights. The letter, dated February 1, was sent to travel companies specializing in Umrah trips.
Muslims in the Kurdistan Region wishing to perform the non-mandatory Umrah pilgrimage to Mecca have been unable
to do so since the international flight ban was imposed on Kurdistan Region’s airports.
“No one from the Kurdistan Region has made the Umrah journey yet, whereas the Umrah season started a few months ago. And this is because of the ban on international flights at the Kurdistan Region airports,” Nabaz Ismael Kamal, the spokesperson for the KRG’s Ministry of Religious Affairs, told Rudaw.
The number of people performing Umrah in the Kurdistan Region fell with the financial crisis, but it witnessed a comeback in 2017, only for it to drop to zero due to the flight ban.
A PUK official has claimed that there is agreement “in principle” for KRG’s airports to be opened by the end of the month. In late December, Baghdad authorities extended the international flight ban until February 28.
Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority representatives are in the Kurdistan Region making preparations for reopening the airports.
Foreign delegations visiting the KRG have reiterated the need for the airports to be opened to international travel. Last week, UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson spoke with Abadi by phone, urging him to allow the resumption of international flights into the Kurdistan Region, among other topic discussed.
Domestic flights have not been affected by the ban.