Iraq PM lifts flight ban to Kurdish region's airports

Iraq denies border demarcation with Kurdish region

In an official statement, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared the worldwide flight ban in the Kurdistan Region lifted, allowing flights to resume from both Erbil and Sulaimani airports after more than five months of being under embargo.

The decision to lift the flight ban was made "after local Kurdish authorities accepted that central authorities retake control of the two airports", the statement said.

Airports in Iraq's Kurdistan region have been reopened to worldwide flights following the restoration of federal authority over the two airports, said a report.

It is not clear if the autonomous region will maintain its independent visa system after the blockade ends.

The announcement comes some six months after the airports were initially shut to global flights following a controversial referendum vote in northern Iraq's self-ruled Kurdish region that overwhelmingly backed independence from Baghdad.

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The UN special envoy to Iraq, Jan Kubis, said the move was a "significant positive step that is certain to boost the atmosphere of partnership cooperation" between the two sides.

Al-Abadi said a higher committee will be formed "to oversee the management of the Kurdish region's airports to ensure their compliance with the federal government's standards". Kurdish lawmakers boycotted a recent vote in parliament approving the country's 2018 budget.

Federal authorities imposed the blockade in September after Iraqi Kurdistan voted overwhelmingly for independence in a non-binding referendum rejected as illegal by the central government.

The flight ban was part of a battery of penalties inflicted on the Kurds as Baghdad sought to nullify the poll, with federal forces also seizing disputed oil-rich regions.

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