A number of international carriers have announced they would halt flights to the Iraqi Kurdish region this week at the request of Baghdad, including Lebanese and Egyptian national carriers.
Turkish Airlines has announced its flights would continue for now, as any formal request was not delivered to the company yet from Iraqi authorities.
“All our scheduled flights to these two cities will be carried out as planned,” the airline said in a statement, referring to the cities of Arbil and Sulaimaniyah.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, reacting to the independence referendum held by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) on Sept. 25, had told on Sept. 26 the autonomous Kurdish government to hand over control of Arbil and Sulaimaniyah airports or else he would suspend direct international flights to and from Kurdistan on Sept. 29.
The Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority then sent a notice on Sept. 27 to foreign airline companies telling them that international flights to Arbil and Sulaimaniyah will be suspended at 15:00 GMT on Sept. 29 and only domestic flights will be allowed.
Following his announcement, Lebanon’s Middle East Airlines (MEA) announced it would suspend flights to and from Arbil airport from Sept. 29, citing an Iraqi government decision to suspend international flights at the airport, MEA Chairman Mohammad al-Hout said by phone.
“For now, we’re stopping. The last flight is on the 29th, until they solve the issue,” he told Reuters on Sept. 27.
Egypt’s national airline has also announced it will suspend flights between Cairo and Arbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdish region, after the Kurds angered Baghdad and Iraq’s neighbors by holding the independence referendum.
EgyptAir said in a statement on Sept. 27 that the decision goes into effect starting Friday and will remain until further notice.
The transport minister of the KRG, Mawloud Bawah Murad, however, expressed bafflement at the move by Baghdad.
“Arbil and Sulaimaniyah airports were built from the budget of the Kurdistan government,” he told a press conference in Arbil, as quoted by AFP on Sept. 27.
“We want more clarifications from the Iraqi government on its demand to hand them the two airports, because we don’t understand how to give them the two airports, when they are already subject to the Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority,” he said.