Bagh­dad cuts Kur­dis­tan air links with out­side world

Khaleej Times - - MIDDLE EAST - AFP

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. —

Reuters

Kur­dish peo­ple protest out­side the Erbil In­ter­na­tional Air­port against the flight ban on Fri­day. —

AP

Anx­ious pas­sen­gers queue up to check in at the Erbil In­ter­na­tional Air­port be­fore flight ban. —

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