Iraqi PM Agrees to Lift Ban on International Flights to Kurdistan Region


Iraq has lifted the ban on worldwide flights to the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region's airports, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Tuesday.

Kurdish authorities confirmed that airports in Iraqi Kurdistan will return to federal Iraqi control and would report to Baghdad's Interior Ministry.

The passports and national ID offices and the employees at the airports of Erbil and Sulaimaniyah will also be linked to the federal Interior Ministry, it added.

Worldwide flights to and from the region's two main airports have been halted since September 29, part of sanctions imposed on the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region after it conducted an independence referendum in defiance of Baghdad's wishes.

The UN special envoy to Iraq, Jan Kubis, said the move was a "significant positive step that is certain to boost the atmosphere of partnership cooperation" between the two sides.

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

Only domestic flights have been allowed through the region's airports, with foreign airlines suspending their routes in accordance with an order from the central government.

Relations between Irbil and Baghdad remain frosty, however.

Iraq's neighbouring countries, especially Turkey, Iran and Syria, fear that the Iraqi Kurds' pursuit of independence threatens their own territorial integrity by inspiring the Kurdish population in those countries to seek independence.

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