Airports in Kurdish region to be opened after restoration of federal authority

Airports in Kurdish region to be opened after restoration of federal authority

Iraqi authorities said on Tuesday they were lifting a almost six-month air blockade imposed on Iraqi Kurdistan in response to its holding of an independence referendum.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Tuesday lifted a ban on global flights to two airports in Erbil and Sulaimaniyah in the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan.

Relations between Baghdad and the regional government Erbil have remained tense since last September, when the KRG held an unconstitutional referendum on regional independence.

The blockade was extended in December for two months and then renewed in February for another three months.

Kurdish authorities confirmed that airports in Iraqi Kurdistan will return to federal Iraqi control and would report to Baghdad's Interior Ministry.

The airports of Erbil and Sulaimaniyah would again be "open to global flights", he said in a statement.

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Government spokesman Saad al-Hadithi said the airports are due to open within a few days.

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 unconstitutional poll prompted Baghdad to impose a raft of punitive sanctions on the KRG, including a ban on global flights into and out of the Kurdish region.

Erbil and Baghdad have long-standing issues dividing them, including the Kurdistan Region's budget share, conflicts over the administration of disputed territories, and the distribution of oil export revenue.

Iraq's Kurds overwhelmingly backed independence from federal Iraq in the September 25 vote.

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