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Baghdad ends air blockade of Iraqi Kurdistan
March 14, 2018
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BAGHDAD: Iraqi authorities said on Tuesday they were lifting a nearly six-month air blockade imposed on Iraqi Kurdistan in response to its holding of an independence referendum.

Federal authorities imposed the blockade in September after Iraqi Kurdistan voted overwhelmingly for independence in a non-binding referendum rejected as illegal by the central government.

It was extended in December for two months and renewed in February for another possible three months.

Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi said in a statement the airports of Kurdish regional capital Arbil and second city Sulaimaniyah would again be “open to international flights.”

The decision to lift the flight ban was made “after local Kurdish authorities accepted that central authorities retake control of the two airports,” the statement said. The formal lifting of the blockade will take place in the next few days, Abadi’s spokesman Saad Al Hadithi said.

“This will depend on how long it takes for employees of the central government to start working in the airports,” he said.

Iraqi Kurdish prime minister Nechirvan Barzani told a press conference shortly after the announcement that he “thanked Baghdad and Prime Minister Abadi because it is he who decided to reopen the airports.”

Abadi met a Kurdish delegation on Tuesday, a senior Kurdish official confirmed to AFP on condition of anonymity, and the two sides agreed that the issues of security and passports would be entrusted to Baghdad.

Separately, Iraq’s President Fuad Masum is refusing to approve the 2018 budget because of “legal and constitutional violations”, his legal adviser said on Tuesday.

The long-delayed budget was passed by parliament on March 3, but Kurdish lawmakers boycotted the vote in protest over their region’s diminished allocation. “We are sending it (the budget) back to the parliament to amend the legal and constitutional violations we pointed out,” Amir Al Kenany said.

Since the flight ban went into force, all Kurdistan-bound international flights have been rerouted to Baghdad, which also imposed entry visas on foreigners wishing to visit the Kurdish region.

The flight ban was part of a battery of penalties inflicted on the Kurds as Baghdad sought to nullify the poll, with federal forces also seizing disputed oil-rich regions.


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