The Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority has recognized the need to confront the flight ban by the Turkish government into the Iraqi-Kurdistan Sulaymaniyah International Airport. Sulaymaniyah provincial governor Haval Abubakr met with Iraq’s Civil Aviation Authority over the weekend to discuss the issue and seek assistance. Iraqi officials have agreed to bring up the issue with the Turkish government. Governor Abubakr told local reporters that,

We had a good meeting with Ali Khalil, the director general of Iraq’s Civil Aviation Authority. Ali Khalil announced to us that they are in discussions with the Turkish side concerning the matter, and a meeting between Turkey and Iraq will be held in this week.”

The ban on international flights into and out of the autonomous Kurdistan region began when the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) held an independence referendum last September. The Iraqi government halted all international travel through the Erbil and Sulaymaniyah airports while simultaneously sending its paramilitary Hashd al-Shaabi forces into Kirkuk, effectively pushing the Kurdish Peshmerga out of the region. The flight ban was lifted in March after the central Iraqi government took control of the airport’s daily operations.

After the travel ban was lifted, Turkey resumed flights into and out of Erbil but neglected to do so for Sulaymaniyah. The Turkish government cited that the justification for this course of action was that Sulaymaniyah was a hotbed of PKK influence, activity, and support. President Erdogan accused the governing officials of the region, specifically the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), of directly supporting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK is a long time enemy of the Turkish state and is labeled a terrorist group by NATO; they are conducting an insurgency against Turkey in an effort to secure better political and cultural rights for Turkish Kurds.

Governor Abubakr claimed his administration would provide a letter to Iraq’s Council of Ministers encouraging the council to bring up the travel issue in Sulaymaniyah at the next meeting of ministers. He also claimed that KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, as well as Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani, have said they would address the issue with the Turkish government directly. In his interview, Abubakr said he told the Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority that the, “Sulaimani airport is one of the most advanced airports in Iraq, and the Iraqi government needs to have a stance on resolving this issue.”

Featured image: The Sulaymaniyah International Airport in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq, is open for business and hosts direct flights to and from Istanbul, Amman, Dubai, Baghdad, and Munich. | By U.S. Army photo by Maj. Juanita Chang, 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, via Wikimedia Commons

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