Iraq bans private Turkish jets from its airspace ahead of Kurdish oil conference

Iraq bans private Turkish jets from its airspace ahead of Kurdish oil conference

ARBIL - Agence France-Presse / Hürriyet
Iraq bans private Turkish jets from its airspace ahead of Kurdish oil conference

Baghdad's move comes three weeks after Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu's visit to Baghdad which resulted in a thaw between both countries. In this Nov. 10 file photo, Davutoğlu is received by his counterpart Hoshyar Zebari upon his arrival to Baghdad's airport. DHA photo

Baghdad has barred Turkish private jets from flying to Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, officials said Nov. 30, ahead of an upcoming energy conference that Ankara's energy minister was expected to attend.

The move comes amid mounting tensions between Iraq and Turkey over a mooted pipeline that could begin pumping oil exports from the autonomous Kurdistan region as early as next month, infuriating Baghdad, which insists all energy sales should be via the central government.

"Since yesterday [Nov. 30], Baghdad has stopped private planes coming from Turkey," Talar Mustafa, head of Arbil airport in the capital of the Kurdish region, told AFP.

"Not normal flights, just private jets. It is an order from the ministry of transportation." Mustafa said airport authorities were not informed of the reasoning.

Two Turkish officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that a Turkish private jet flying to the Kurdish region was turned back late Nov. 30.

The decision comes after a similar move by Baghdad a year ago, barring Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yıldız's plane from landing in Arbil, with Iraqi officials saying the flight had not obtained the necessary permits.

It comes on the eve of a four-day energy conference due to be held in the regional capital, which Yıldız was again expected to attend, but Kurdish officials said the move would not affect the event.

"We're used to these petty, petulant actions from Baghdad," a Kurdish regional government (KRG) official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity. "They really should grow up." "It won't affect the conference." Officials at Iraq's civil aviation authority and transport ministry did not respond to multiple AFP requests for comment.

The latest move by Baghdad comes after Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani told reporters in Ankara that oil exports from the region to Turkey could start next month.

Negotiations are ongoing: Ankara

Kurdish authorities are seeking ways of selling their oil on international markets outside the control of Baghdad, but a lingering dispute with the central government has paralysed development of new oil and gas projects in the region.

Turkish officials have refrained from publicly confirming that any deals have been finalised, saying that negotiations with both Baghdad and Arbil are continuing.

“During the visit of the Iraqi KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani to Ankara on Nov. 27, we have agreed on some commercial deals on energy in compliance with the Iraqi constitution. But the process on this subject has not finished as yet,” a Foreign Ministry statement said.

“Our wish and preference is to undertake this matter within a tripartite framework and to bring it to a conclusion that will benefit our mutual interests and welfare,” the statement added. 

Ankara is however also keen on repairing ties with Baghdad, which have been strained for several years, and has offered to mediate in the oil dispute between Kurdish authorities and the Iraqi central government.

On Nov. 27, simultaneously with Barzani's Ankara visit, Turkey’s Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çiçek visited his counterpart Osama al-Nujaifi at the Iraqi capital.

Just weeks ago, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu also visited Baghdad, where he met with the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Foreign Minister Hosyhar Zebari along with other high-level Iraqi officials.