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Iran closes airspace to Kurdistan region at Iraq’s request

Election committee workers hang banners on buildings ahead of the upcoming Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) controversial referendum on September 24, 2017 in Erbil, Iraq. Voters in provinces controlled by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq are set to head to polls on Monday to vote in a controversial referendum on whether to secede from Iraq. According to data released by the KRG Independent High Electoral Commission, over 5 million people are expected to vote in Monday's referendum. Hemn Baban / Anadolu Agency

Following a request from Baghdad, Iran on Sunday announced a halt of air traffic to and from Iraq’s Kurdistan region, a day ahead of the region’s historic independence referendum, the ISNA news agency reported.

According to the report, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) has closed Iran’s airspace and air border to the Iraqi Kurdish region, SNSC spokesman Keyvan Khosravi said.

He said that Iran took the decision because the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) did not cancel the referendum despite many requests by Iraq and Iran.

Based on the decision, all flights to Sulaymaniyah and Arbil airports as well as transit flights from Iraqi Kurdistan through Iran’s air zone are halted, Khosravi added.

Iraq’s neighbors and allies, including Turkey and the US, oppose the referendum, warning that it will trigger ethnic violence, create divisions in Iraq and undermine the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

The Iraqi army’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Othman al-Ghanmi, paid a visit to Turkey on Saturday amid a crisis over the KRG’s referendum.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Wednesday threatened to impose sanctions on Kurdish northern Iraq over the planned independence vote.

Erdoğan and his US counterpart, Donald Trump, who met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on Thursday, reaffirmed their opposition to the KRG’s independence referendum.

Following a Cabinet meeting chaired by Erdoğan in Ankara late on Friday, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ called on the KRG to cancel the referendum completely.

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