The Kurdistan Region has two international airports, Erbil and Sulaimnai. In 2016, more than 1.8 million people traveleed abroad from Erbil International Airport. Photo: AP/Khalid Mohammed
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The Kurdistan Region is prepared to talk with Baghdad in order to “understand” the decision to ban international flights at Erbil and Sulaimani airports, and is also open to allow six employees of the Iraqi aviation authority to be stationed in these airports, the KRG’s minister for transport said.
Minister Maulood Bawa Murad also warned that the Kurdistan government has some “cards” to play against Baghdad if the flight ban is not lifted.
“I say that Iraq wants to seek revenge. So even if it's for one day, two days, or three days, they will stop it so that they can say 'we enforced the decision'. Or at least it will agree to the option that we will present – that is we say send 5 to 6 people to be in those airports,” Murad told Rudaw’s Rudawi Amro programme on Wednesday night.
The first step is negotiations “in order to understand this decision,” Murad said, adding that they want to know what Baghdad means when it says it wants to “monitor and supervise” the Kurdish airports.
Many airlines have so far said that they will comply with the orders from the Iraqi government and will suspend all international flights to and from these airports.
The ban takes effect by Friday evening if the Kurdistan Region refuses to hand control over to Baghdad authorities.
Murad said he is “optimistic” that this decision of Iraq will not be “easy” for Iraq to enforce in the long term.
Baghdad’s flight ban does not affect domestic flights. Murad said one option they have is to halt those flights, but insisted that they have yet not made a decision.
“We have good cards to play,” Murad said when asked if Erbil can exert any pressure against Baghdad. “I think some of the cards are already active,” he said, without providing details.
Murad noted that the US-led Global Coalition against ISIS is using Erbil’s airport and should the flight ban go ahead, it will affect Coalition air activities. He said the international forces will not accept the closure of the airports as they make an “extraordinary” number of flights every day.
He also said the UN’s humanitarian work would be negatively affected by the ban.
In a statement reacting to the referendum on Monday, the UN Secretary-General called on authorities in the country to ensure UN activities in Kurdistan and Iraq “will be allowed to continue unhindered.”
Baghdad has said the flight ban will not affect humanitarian or emergency flights if they obtain prior authorization from Iraqi authorities. Murad said such authorization would take a long time and is not practical.
The visa issue will further complicate the matter, Murad said.
Current rules in place in the Kurdistan Region stipulate that foreign travelers do not need to seek an Iraqi visa to enter the Kurdish territory. They should instead seek a visa approved by the Kurdistan Region’s Department for Foreign Affairs.
Murad said the flight ban will affect a large number of people. Last year alone, more than 1.8 million passengers flew out of Erbil airport, he said.
Murad added they will raise their concerns with the international bodies that govern civilian aviation at the earliest possible time.