Erbil International Airport. Photo: Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – A set of announced measures by the Iraqi government which include an attempt to strip the Kurdistan Region from controlling its border gates such as the airports amounts to “collective punishment” and is a reminder of the practices of the infamous former Iraqi regime, said Kurdish Premier Nechirvan Barzani on Monday after he cast his vote in the independence referendum, despite the opposition of the Iraqi government and other countries.
The Iraqi government had demanded that Kurdistan hand over control of all its international border posts to federal authorities, including the airports, and told the international community to deal exclusively with the government in Baghdad, particularly in relation to oil. Iraq announced the measures following a meeting of its National Security Council on Sunday.
“This is the collective punishment of the people of Kurdistan. What Abadi declared is the collective punishment of all the people of Kurdistan,” PM Barzani said.
“The language he used reminds us of the orders of the [former] Revolutionary Command Council. We never expected him to speak of Kurdistan in such a way,” he continued, referring to the Command center of the Iraqi regime under Saddam Hussein that used to take harsh measures against the people of Kurdistan, including a genocidal campaign.
PM Barzani said that they invite the Iraqi PM to visit the Kurdish airports to see for himself what is going on 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.
PM Barzani said that they are for negotiation with Baghdad and that the Kurdish vote on independence does not mean that Erbil will declare independence the following day.
"What we see today in the Kurdistan Region, as part of the voting process for independence referendum, is not to declare the independence of Kurdistan the following day," said the PM.
The central government in believes the vote to be "unconstitutional" and regional countries have said it threatens the unity of Iraq.
"It is not to draw the borders of Kurdistan through this referendum either," Barzani reiterated. "These two issues are of great importance for our neighbours and Baghdad to understand. We only want to show the will of our people to the world — that we want to walk towards independence through a serious process and democratic negotiation with Baghdad.”
PM Barzani called the decision by the Iraqi government “wrong.”
Iran announced on Sunday that they closed their airspace with the Kurdistan Region at the request of the Iraqi government.