Flight ban on Kurds ... threat to oil

Nine to one for se­ces­sion

Arab Times - - FRONT PAGE -

ERBIL, Iraq, Sept 28, (Agen­cies): Hun­dreds of pas­sen­gers waited to board flights out of the Kur­dish re­gion at Erbil In­ter­na­tional Air­port on Thursday af­ter Bagh­dad threat­ened to ban flights fol­low­ing an in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum held by Iraq’s Kurds ear­lier this week.

Most in­ter­na­tional car­ri­ers who fly to and from air­ports in the Kur­dish re­gion an­nounced they would halt flights be­gin­ning Fri­day night in line with the ban. Also on Thursday, Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Haider al-Abadi said Turkey has agreed to deal only with Bagh­dad on oil ex­ports from the self-ruled Kur­dish re­gion.

At Erbil’s air­port, many of the pas­sen­gers were for­eign­ers who said they were trav­el­ing to avoid pos­si­bly be­ing stuck once the flight ban goes into ef­fect Fri­day.

Mu­rat Mut­lar, a Turk­ish ci­ti­zen, said the com­pany he works for in Erbil or­dered him to leave be­fore Fri­day and as of Thursday he didn’t know if he’ll re­turn.

“It de­pends on the sit­u­a­tion here. If they make again all flights open ... we will come back again and con­tinue our work,” he said.

Iraq’s Trans­port Min­istry or­dered in­ter­na­tional air­lines to halt ser­vice to Erbil, the Kur­dish re­gional cap­i­tal, and Su­laimaniyah, its sec­ond city, be­gin­ning Fri­day evening.

State car­rier Qatar Air­ways was just the lat­est air­line to an­nounce all flights to and from the Kur­dish re­gion

would be can­celed start­ing Satur­day. Le­banon’s Mid­dle East Air­lines, Egyp­tAir and Royal Jor­da­nian an­nounced Wed­nes­day that flights would be sus­pended be­gin­ning Fri­day evening.

Low-cost car­rier FlyDubai said it is halt­ing flights from Satur­day. And Shar­jah-based Air Ara­bia said it will “tem­po­rar­ily sus­pend its flights” from Satur­day in line with the or­der it re­ceived from the Iraqi Civil Avi­a­tion Author­ity.

Mean­while, Turkey threat­ened po­ten­tially crip­pling re­stric­tions on oil trad­ing with Iraqi Kurds on Thursday af­ter they backed in­de­pen­dence from Bagh­dad in a ref­er­en­dum that has alarmed Ankara as it faces a sep­a­ratist in­sur­gency from its own Kur­dish mi­nor­ity.

Iraq’s Kurds en­dorsed se­ces­sion by nine to one in a vote on Mon­day that has an­gered Turkey, the cen­tral gov­ern­ment in Bagh­dad, and other re­gional and world pow­ers, who fear the ref­er­en­dum could lead to re­newed con­flict in the re­gion.

Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Haider alAbadi’s of­fice said he had been told by Turk­ish Prime Min­is­ter Bi­nali Yildirim in a call that Turkey would break with past prac­tice and deal only with the Bagh­dad gov­ern­ment when pur­chas­ing oil from Iraq.

Most oil that flows through a pipe­line from Iraq to Turkey comes from Kur­dish sources and a cut-off would se­verely dam­age the Kur­dish Re­gional Gov­ern­ment (KRG), which re­lies on sales of crude for al­most all its hard cur­rency rev­enues.

So far the oil pipe­line is op­er­at­ing nor­mally de­spite Turk­ish threats to im­pose eco­nomic sanc­tions on the Kur­dish au­ton­o­mous re­gion in Iraq. Turk­ish of­fi­cials, how­ever, ramped up pres­sure on the Kurds on Thursday.

Yildirim said Turkey would re­spond harshly to any se­cu­rity threat on its bor­der af­ter the ref­er­en­dum, al­though that was not its first choice.

Yildirim also said he agreed with Abadi to co­or­di­nate eco­nomic and trade re­la­tions with the cen­tral gov­ern­ment in Bagh­dad. He said Turkey, Iran and Iraq may meet to dis­cuss the ref­er­en­dum.

Turk­ish gov­ern­ment spokesman Bekir Bozdag said Turk­ish armed forces would stop train­ing Iraqi Kur­dish pesh­merga forces, which pro­tected oil fields from cap­ture by the Is­lamic State.

With the re­gion’s largest Kur­dish pop­u­la­tion, Turkey has been bat­tling a three-decade in­sur­gency in its largely Kur­dish south­east and fears the ref­er­en­dum will in­flame sep­a­ratist ten­sions at home.

Kur­dish of­fi­cials say they can with­stand an eco­nomic block­ade be­cause they are self-suf­fi­cient in terms of power gen­er­a­tion and fuel sup­ply, and they also have fer­tile agri­cul­tural land.

They also say that three quar­ters of the trucks that cross the Turk­ish bor­der are head­ing to ter­ri­tory con­trolled by Bagh­dad rather than to the Kur­dish re­gion, so the Turk­ish and Iraqi economies would suf­fer from any block­ade.

But travel to the Kur­dish re­gion will be­come harder if air­ports in Erbil and Su­laimaniya are closed to in­ter­na­tional flights.

Their au­ton­o­mous re­gion in Iraq is the clos­est the Kurds have come in mod­ern times to a state. It has flour­ished amid Iraq’s civil war but may strug­gle to main­tain in­vest­ment if it is block­aded eco­nom­i­cally.

Kur­dish of­fi­cials say that Abadi’s tough re­sponse to the ref­er­en­dum vin­di­cates Iraqi Kur­dish leader Ma­soud Barzani’s de­ci­sion to hold the ref­er­en­dum be­cause they be­lieve Bagh­dad will not co­op­er­ate un­der any cir­cum­stances.

The of­fi­cials feel that if Bagh­dad, Turkey, Iran, the United States and the world line up against them, and the Kurds can­not see an end to their hard­ship, Barzani could come un­der pres­sure at home to de­clare in­de­pen­dence.

A diplo­matic drive to fore­stall Mon­day’s ref­er­en­dum failed to per­suade Kur­dish lead­ers, some of the United States’ clos­est Mid­dle Eastern al­lies, for­mer US of­fi­cials and ex­perts said.

There were ex­pec­ta­tions that the United States, which said it would not recog­nise the vote, could use its ties to the Iraqi Kurds to per­suade Barzani to can­cel the ref­er­en­dum in ex­change for a guar­an­tee of talks with Bagh­dad.

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