The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) has rejected an order by the Iraqi government to hand over airports amid tension over an illegitimate Kurdish independence referendum.
On Tuesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi gave the country’s Kurdish region until Friday to surrender control of its two airports or face a shutdown of international flights.
Iraq’s Civil Aviation Authority has also requested foreign airlines suspend flights to the KRG-held areas by Friday.
“Erbil and Sulaymaniyah Airports belong to the KRG and will continue to operate,” KRG Minister of Transportation Mawlud Bawamurad told a press conference in Erbil on Wednesday.
“We refuse to accept their decision which is not acceptable,” he said.
The Kurdish minister warned that many people, including citizens and diplomats, will be affected by any halt of international flights to the Kurdish region.
“Such a decision would bring nothing but harm to the people,” he said. “Airports should not be politicized.”
Talar Fayeq, director of Erbil International Airport, for his part, decried Baghdad’s call for handing over the airports as “unlawful”.
“Erbil Airport is not used for commercial purposes only,” he said. “UN sends humanitarian aid to Syria through this airport; this is why they [Iraqi government] cannot insist on implementing this decision.”
The illegitimate Kurdish referendum, held on Monday, had faced international opposition amid warning that the vote could distract from the ongoing war against Daesh and could cause regional unrest.