Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has lifted the ban on international flights to and from the Kurdistan region, reports Rudaw. Following a six-month dispute, Kurdish and Iraqi officials reached a consensus to lift the ban on March 13. Flights will return to their normal scheduling starting March 22.
Following years of fights for independence, the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of Iraq held an independence referendum. According to Kurdistan24, on September 25, 2017, the referendum, which was conducted by the Independent High Elections and Referendum Commission, resulted in a 93 percent “Yes” vote with a 72 percent turnout.
The referendum and its results did not intend to lead to an immediate bifurcation. Rather, they were a call for negotiations between the Kurdish and Iraqi governments that would eventually lead to a mutual separation.
In response to the referendum, the Iraqi government ordered the surrender of the two airports, Erbil and Sulaimani, in the Kurdish region, reports the New York Times. After noncompliance with the decree, the Iraqi government banned all international flights to and from the two airports.
According to airport officials, the two airports contributed to a combined 40-50% of Iraq’s total daily flights. The six-month ban has severely hurt the Kurdish economy, with Kurdish officials claiming that Baghdad owed the airport an estimated $37 million for loss of revenue and wages, according to Kurdistan24.
According to Rudaw, on March 13, the Iraqi Interior Minister Qasim al-Araji, the KRG Interior Minister Karim Sinjari, and the head of the Transportation Committee in the Iraqi parliament Bestun Zangana, made a joint announcement lifting the ban on the airports. Al-Abadi has also stated that the Iraqi government would repay the salaries of Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) employees soon.
Despite the allowance of international flights, Kurdistan24 reports that the new agreement would keep the airports under federal jurisdiction. As a result, all passengers traveling through Kurdish airports must face the same immigration procedures as those traveling through Iraqi airports. Foreign workers in Kurdistan must now request Iraqi visas. Furthermore, all shipments, information, and technical measures must be linked with the main system in Baghdad.
According to Araji and Barzani, these measures are needed to ensure a strong opposition to terrorism, reports Rudaw.
The decision represents a huge step forward in the Iraqi-Kurdish relationship. The KRG Interior Minister Sinjari stated that “all issues between Baghdad and Erbil should be resolved through dialogue and discussions and based on the Iraqi constitution.”
Kurdistan24 reports that this same sentiment was expressed by US Ambassador to Iraq Douglas Silliman, who stated that the negotiations, “represent an example of how constructive dialogue can lead to the resolution of disagreements in a peaceful manner.