A plane on the tarmac at Erbil International Airport in the Kurdistan Region. Photo: Safin Hamed | AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has ordered for the KRG to allow Baghdad to implement federal control at airports in Kurdistan, thus paving the way for the return of international flights within a week of the KRG meeting Baghdad's demands.
"Based on [Abadi's] constitutional jurisprudence, the reopening of the Erbil and Sulaimani airports for international flights will occur," Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi posted on his Facebook page on Wednesday.
The United Nations’ representative in Iraq, Jan Kubis, welcomed the decision to permit the resumption of international flights into the Kurdistan Region as a positive step towards the restoration of the partnership between Erbil and Baghdad.
“This is a significant positive step that is certain to boost the atmosphere of partnership cooperation between the Federal Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government,” said Kubis.
“It has shown that problems and pending issues can be resolved through constructive partnership dialogue under the Iraqi Constitution. We call for the speedy implementation of this decision and continued dialogue to resolve all other outstanding issues.”
The policy change would occur "after the local authority in the Kurdistan Region heeds the return of federal authority in the two respective airports," according to Abadi.
Abadi’s office released a decree to create “a Directorate for Special Protection” for the airports of the Kurdistan Region. If the KRG abides by the decree, airports may resume international flights “not more than one week from its date.”
The requirements equate to a complete federal imposition of control over Kurdistan’s airports.
The directorate “will be under the command and control of the Federal Ministry of Interior, and the Minister of Interior.”
Protection of Erbil and Sulaimani’s airports are linked to the aforementioned directorate, and it “shall abide by the uniform specified for the security forces of the Ministry of Interior.”
Biometric systems from Kurdistan “are to be linked to the main system in Baghdad, as is the case in other Iraqi ports.”
“Passports and nationality departments and their staff” will be attached to Iraq’s Ministry of Interior.
To supervise the management of airports and border crossings a High Committee shall be established.
“It shall include representatives of all concerned authorities in the Center and the Region and shall report to the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces or whom he authorizes,” read Abadi’s decree.
Abadi and KRG Interior Minister Karim Sinjari met in Baghdad after the announcement, when they underscored that coordination will continue between the KRG and the central government.
"The era of exploitation has gone since the collapse of the Baathist regime," Abadi said, adding that Iraq has a rich source of assets which benefit the whole country.
"I would love to hear tomorrow that the airports were opened," Abadi said.
Abadi commended the role of Nechirvan Barzani saying "our continued and strong relations" made Erbil and Baghdad reach a resolution.
In the meeting Sinjari, who is also the KRG’s acting Peshmerga minister, said "we commend the reopening of the airports, this means that you are implementing the constitution."
"The re-opening of the airports is step in the right direction towards resolving impending issues between the Region and Baghdad.
He assured Abadi that there is "good coordination" between the KRG’s Interior Ministry and Baghdad's.
"We hope for such meetings to continue between both sides," he added.
Flights could resume on Thursday, the director general of the Sulaimani International Airport said as he welcomed the decision in a video statement published by the airport.
"Today March 13, 2018, in meetings with Mr. Dr. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, the Kurdistan teams were told that on Thursday, international flights will resume in the Erbil and Sulaimani international airports. We hope that happiness and bliss will return to the Kurdistan Region with the restart of the flights,” said Tahir Abdullah, the director general of the Sulaimani International Airport.
He added that he is happy to break the news to the Peshmerga injured in the fight against ISIS and others who are in need of using the airports for their business.
In February, Iraq extended the international flight ban until May 31.
The last international flight to leave the Kurdistan Region was on September 29, 2017. The closure of the Sulaimani and Erbil airports to international travel is seen as a punitive measure taken by Abadi following the September 25 independence referendum in the Kurdistan Region.
Last updated at 5:49 p.m.