Baghdad cuts Kurdistan air links with outside world
erbil —Iraq’s government cut the autonomous northern Kurdish region’s direct air links with the outside world indefinitely on Friday after it voted a massive “yes” in a referendum on independence.
The move effectively isolates and increases the pressure on the Kurds amid soaring regional tensions following Monday’s contentious vote. The central government in Baghdad had ordered the halt to all foreign flights to and from the region from 6pm.
Foreigners scrambled to fly out of Iraqi Kurdistan from the region’s capital Erbil and its second largest city Sulaimaniyah before the ban took effect.
Erbil airport is a key gateway for humanitarian aid workers helping Iraqis affected by the battle against the Daesh group.
The Kurds have condemned the flight suspension as “collective punishment”.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi said it was not “punishment” but a legal measure that would be reversed if the transport authority was transferred to Baghdad in line with the Iraqi constitution.
The ban has seen people, many of them foreigners, flock to the airport in the regional capital Erbil to avoid being stranded.
Iraqi Kurdistan is home to a large international community, most of whom enter on a visa issued by the regional authorities that is not recognised by the central government, so they cannot travel elsewhere in Iraq.
We were supposed to go back to brazil next Saturday but we rescheduled our flight because of the border closing
Isidoro Junior, a volunteer for an NGO providing medical assistance to Iraqis
On Friday, around 100 passengers waited eagerly for their planes in Erbil, where the last flight out was to Vienna at 4pm.
“We were supposed to go back to Brazil next Saturday but we rescheduled our flight because of the border closing,” said Isidoro Junior, a 32-year-old volunteer for an NGO providing medical assistance to Iraqis displaced by the war against Daesh. “We are a group of 16 people, so it was quite difficult to find enough seats. One of us came here at 2am to make sure... we would be able to fly out,” he said.
At the Turkish Airlines counter, before the last flight left, a oneway ticket to Istanbul cost $743. But it sold for $1,500 online, said one passenger who had paid twice in error, leaving a £3,000 dent in his credit card. The director of Erbil airport, Talar Faiq Salih said humanitarian, military and diplomatic flights were excluded from the ban. —
Kurdish people protest outside the Erbil International Airport against the flight ban on Friday. —
Anxious passengers queue up to check in at the Erbil International Airport before flight ban. —