Iraqi Prime Minister reopens Kurdish airports to international flights

The announcement comes six months after the airports were shut to international flights following a controversial referendum

Passengers stand outside Arbil international airport, in the capital of Iraq's autonomous northern Kurdish region, on February 27, 2018. 
Iraq has extended by three months a ban on international flights to the autonomous Kurdish region. / AFP PHOTO / SAFIN HAMED
Powered by automated translation

Airports in Iraq's Kurdish region were reopened to international flights after federal authority was restored at the hubs, said Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi on Tuesday.

The announcement comes six months after the airports were shut to international flights following a controversial referendum in northern Iraq's self-ruled Kurdish region that was deemed illegal by Baghdad.

"Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi announced the reopening of the airports in Erbil and Suleimaniyah to international flights," said a tweet published by Mr Abadi's official account.

The airports are due to open "within a few days" government spokesman Saad Al Hadithi told The Associated Press.

Mr Al Abadi described the move as "a gift to the people of Kurdistan," during a meeting aired on Iraqi state television and added that the central government would also release salaries for government employees in the Kurdish region ahead of the celebration of the Kurdish new year later this month.

The vote, which was non-binding but overwhelmingly backed independence, was held across the autonomous Kurdish region's three provinces as well as in some disputed territories controlled by Iraqi Kurdish security forces but claimed by Baghdad.

The referendum was vehemently rejected by the central government and Iraq's other neighbours, ratcheting up tensions in the region on the heels of military victories against the ISIL.

Read more: Baghdad extends flight ban on Iraqi Kurdistan

Meanwhile, Iraq’s President Fuad Masoum is refusing to approve the 2018 budget because of“legal and constitutional violations”, his legal adviser told Reuters 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.

Mr Masoum is a Kurd and holds a largely ceremonial role in the Iraqi state where most power lies with the prime minister who belongs to the Shiite Muslim majority.

“We are sending it (the budget) back to the parliament to amend the legal and constitutional violations we pointed out,” Amir Al Kenany said.