Referendum fallout: Airliners from Turkey and other states halt flights to Iraqi Kurdistan

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ISTANBUL/AMMAN/DUBAI: Airlines from Turkey as well as Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and the UAE said Wednesday they will suspend operations to and from Iraq’s Kurdistan region following Baghdad’s threat to ban flights after the region’s independence referendum.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, whose government strongly opposed the referendum, had threatened on Tuesday to order a halt to all flights serving airports in Iraqi Kurdistan in response to the independence vote.
People in northern Iraq voted overwhelmingly in favor of independence in Monday’s non-binding vote that was opposed by Baghdad, Turkey and Iran, who all fear it could encourage separatism among their own Kurdish populations.
The Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority sent a notice on Wednesday to foreign airlines telling them international flights to Irbil and Sulaimaniya in the Kurdish region would be suspended on Friday at 1500 GMT and only domestic flights allowed.
Turkish carriers Turkish Airlines, Atlas and Pegasus, which offer frequent connections for Iraqi Kurdistan, will halt their flights from Friday, the Turkish consulate in Irbil said.
Lebanon’s Middle East Airlines said it would also stop flights to and from Irbil from Friday while EgyptAir announced its flights would also halt that day “until further notice.”
Jordan’s state carrier Royal Jordanian (RJ) said it will suspend its flights to Irbil and Sulaymaniyah from Friday following a request from Iraqi authorities.
Budget carrier flydubai said it was temporarily suspending its flights to Irbil from September 30.
“The work has started in order to increase the capacity of the flights” to and from Irbil until Friday, the Turkish consulate in Irbil said in a statement, urging citizens to consider the “circumstances” in their travel planning.
More than 92 percent of Iraq’s Kurds voted “Yes” for independence in the referendum, according to the first official results announced on Wednesday, two days after the disputed plebiscite.
Abadi had said he would ban “international flights to and from Kurdistan” from Friday unless the airports in Irbil and the city of Sulaimaniyah were placed under the control of the federal government in Baghdad.
The transport minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Mawloud Bawah Murad, expressed bafflement at the move by Baghdad.
“Irbil and Sulaimaniyah airports were built from the budget of the Kurdistan government,” he told a press conference in Irbil.
“We want more clarifications from the Iraqi government on its demand to hand them the two airports, because we don’t understand how to give them the two airports, when they are already subject to the Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority.”
Lebanon’s Middle East Airlines chairman Mohammed Al-Hout said MEA would work to ensure Lebanese citizens could leave Iraqi Kurdistan through other Iraqi airports.
“We will not leave any Lebanese stranded. They will be able to go to Baghdad, Basra or Najaf as transit points,” he said.
Baghdad has reacted with anger to Monday’s Kurdish independence vote, with Abadi saying that it must be annulled.

ISTANBUL/AMMAN/DUBAI: Airlines from Turkey as well as Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and the UAE said Wednesday they will suspend operations to and from Iraq’s Kurdistan region following Baghdad’s threat to ban flights after the region’s independence referendum.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, whose government strongly opposed the referendum, had threatened on Tuesday to order a halt to all flights serving airports in Iraqi Kurdistan in response to the independence vote.
People in northern Iraq voted overwhelmingly in favor of independence in Monday’s non-binding vote that was opposed by Baghdad, Turkey and Iran, who all fear it could encourage separatism among their own Kurdish populations.
The Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority sent a notice on Wednesday to foreign airlines telling them international flights to Irbil and Sulaimaniya in the Kurdish region would be suspended on Friday at 1500 GMT and only domestic flights allowed.
Turkish carriers Turkish Airlines, Atlas and Pegasus, which offer frequent connections for Iraqi Kurdistan, will halt their flights from Friday, the Turkish consulate in Irbil said.
Lebanon’s Middle East Airlines said it would also stop flights to and from Irbil from Friday while EgyptAir announced its flights would also halt that day “until further notice.”
Jordan’s state carrier Royal Jordanian (RJ) said it will suspend its flights to Irbil and Sulaymaniyah from Friday following a request from Iraqi authorities.
Budget carrier flydubai said it was temporarily suspending its flights to Irbil from September 30.
“The work has started in order to increase the capacity of the flights” to and from Irbil until Friday, the Turkish consulate in Irbil said in a statement, urging citizens to consider the “circumstances” in their travel planning.
More than 92 percent of Iraq’s Kurds voted “Yes” for independence in the referendum, according to the first official results announced on Wednesday, two days after the disputed plebiscite.
Abadi had said he would ban “international flights to and from Kurdistan” from Friday unless the airports in Irbil and the city of Sulaimaniyah were placed under the control of the federal government in Baghdad.
The transport minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Mawloud Bawah Murad, expressed bafflement at the move by Baghdad.
“Irbil and Sulaimaniyah airports were built from the budget of the Kurdistan government,” he told a press conference in Irbil.
“We want more clarifications from the Iraqi government on its demand to hand them the two airports, because we don’t understand how to give them the two airports, when they are already subject to the Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority.”
Lebanon’s Middle East Airlines chairman Mohammed Al-Hout said MEA would work to ensure Lebanese citizens could leave Iraqi Kurdistan through other Iraqi airports.
“We will not leave any Lebanese stranded. They will be able to go to Baghdad, Basra or Najaf as transit points,” he said.
Baghdad has reacted with anger to Monday’s Kurdish independence vote, with Abadi saying that it must be annulled.



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