Iraqi PM agrees to lift ban on international flights to Kurdistan Region


By Raya Jalabi

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi agreed to lift a ban on international air traffic to the Kurdistan Region on Tuesday, in a decree which said international flights could resume within one week.

Kurdish authorities have agreed for Erbil and Sulaimaniyah airports to come under federal control, reporting to Baghdad’s Ministry of Interior, the decree said.

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

FILE PHOTO: The Erbil International Airport is seen in Erbil, Iraq September 29, 2017. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari File /File Photo

Iraq’s Kurds overwhelmingly backed independence from federal Iraq in the Sept. 25 vote.

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.

This hit the Kurdistan Region’s economy, with a decrease in tourism and travel affecting local businesses.

The decree announced the creation of a new Directorate for Special Protection for the airports of the Kurdistan Region, “which will be under the command and control of the Federal Ministry of the Interior.”

FILE PHOTO: The Erbil International Airport is seen empty of passengers in Erbil, Iraq September 29, 2017. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari File /File Photo

Federal customs authorities will supervise the “introduction, production and handling of materials and equipment through the two airports”, the decree said.

It also specified that the biometric system used in the Kurdistan Region’s airports will be linked with the federal system.

It was not immediately clear whether the region would continue to maintain its independent visa system.

(Reporting by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Alison Williams and David Stamp)

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