Abadi calls travel ban constitutional, Kurdistan refuses to relinquish borders
As the Iraqi Prime Minister on Friday said the direct air travel ban is not “a punition against the citizens of the region” the Kurdistan Regional Government refused to relinquish control of its border crossings.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a statement that the action was a constitutional measure decided by the government in the interest of the residents of Kurdistan.
Erbil-based TV Rudaw said on Friday, citing a KRG official that the regional government refused handing over the border crossings with Turkey, Iran and Syria to central government officials.
Backed by Ankara and Tehran, the Iraqi government has demanded that the Kurdish leadership cancel the result of the referendum or face sanctions, international isolation and possibly a military intervention.
An embargo on direct international travel to Kurdistan is set to begin at 6:00 pm local time 1500 GMT imposed by the Iraqi government to force the KRG to hand over the control of its airports to Baghdad.
Sistani says no to independence
During a Friday sermon in the holy city of Kerbala, Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric, announced his opposition to the secession of the Kurdistan region.
Ahmed al-Safi, a representative of the reclusive octogenarian, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said in the sermon that “any attempt to make secession an accomplished fact will lead to undesired consequences affecting Kurdish citizens”.
He urged the Kurdistan Regional Government “to return to the constitutional path in solving disputes” such as self-determination for the Kurdish people, Safi said.
It is the first direct political sermon by Sistani since early 2016, in a clear sign that he attaches importance to the crisis pitting the KRG against Baghdad and Iraq’s neighbors.
Sistani stopped making direct political comments in Feb. 2016, in protest at the widespread and deep-rooted corruption within Iraqi government institutions.
Most Iraqi Kurds are Sunni Muslims but Kurdish northern Iraq is also home to some Shi’ite Turkmens and Arabs.
Masoud Barzani’s KRG says Monday’s referendum, which delivered an overwhelming yes for independence, was meant to pave the way for a peaceful secession from Iraq, through talks with Baghdad and neighboring states Turkey and Iran.
Barzani said last week one reason for holding the referendum was because he feared Iraq, split between a Shi’ite majority and Sunni minority, was becoming a sectarian-based “theocracy”, not a proper democracy as promised after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted veteran ruler Saddam Hussein.
The Iraqi government has rejected any talks with the KRG and demanded that the Kurdish leadership cancel the result in order to avoid sanctions, international isolation and possibly a military intervention.
Last flight departs
The last international flight left Erbil airport on Friday as the Baghdad government imposed an air ban on Iraqi Kurdistan in retaliation for an independence vote that has drawn widespread opposition from foreign powers.
Iraq’s Kurds overwhelmingly backed independence in Monday’s referendum, defying neighboring countries, which fear the vote could lead to renewed conflict in the region.
Foreign airlines suspended flights to Erbil and Sulaimaniya in the Kurdish region, obeying a notice from the government in Baghdad, which controls Iraqi air space.