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Baghdad ends air blockade of Iraqi Kurdistan: PM

Baghdad ends Erbil air blockade [AFP]

Date of publication: 13 March, 2018

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Iraqi authorities said Tuesday they had ended a nearly six-month air blockade imposed on Iraqi Kurdistan in response to its holding of an independence referendum.

Iraqi authorities said Tuesday they had ended a nearly six-month air blockade imposed on Iraqi Kurdistan in response to its holding of an independence referendum.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the airports of Erbil and Sulaimaniyah were "again open to international flights".

The announcement comes some six months after the airports were initially shut to international flights following a controversial referendum vote in northern Iraq’s self-ruled Kurdish region that overwhelmingly backed independence from Baghdad.

The airports are due to open “within a few days” government spokesman Saad al-Hadithi told The Associated Press.

The Kurdish independence vote last September, though non-binding, was held across the autonomous region’s three provinces as well as in some disputed territories controlled by Iraqi Kurdish security forces but claimed by Baghdad.

The referendum was vehemently rejected by Baghdad and Iraq’s other neighbors, ratcheting up tensions in the region on the heels of military victories against the Islamic State group.

The decision to lift the flight ban comes as Iraq is preparing for national elections slated to be held in May. Initially, al-Aabdi’s tough line on Iraq’s Kurds translated into widespread public support among his base in Iraq’s Shiite-heartland.

However, Iraqi parliament remains deeply divided, raising fears of a protracted government formation process following national elections. Kurdish lawmakers boycotted a recent vote in parliament approving the country’s 2018 budget.

Iraq’s small landlocked Kurdish region has been increasingly isolated following the September referendum, straining relations with key allies such as the United States and neighboring Turkey.

In September 29, Iraq’s central government imposed a ban on all international flights into and out of the Kurdistan region following a controversial vote for independence that triggered an ongoing crisis with Baghdad.

The flight ban came after the Kurdish region claimed victory in an independence referendum that has been vehemently rejected by Baghdad and Iraq's neighbours with Kurdish populations. 

The region has two airports in Erbil and Sulaymaniyah, both of which will now remain mostly unoperational.

Following the referendum, Iraqi government forces were ordered to deploy to areas disputed between Baghdad and Erbil, capturing the contested oil-rich Kirkuk province.

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