Several Turkish airlines, including Turkish Airlines (THY), AtlasGlobal and Pegasus, in addition to Lebanese and Egyptian carriers announced on Wednesday that they would halt flights to cities in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) area of northern Iraq upon a request from the Baghdad government.
In a statement posted on Twitter, Turkey’s consulate in Arbil said Iraq’s Civil Aviation Authority had announced the suspension of flights to and from Arbil, the administrative capital of northern Iraq’s Kurdish region, as well as Sulaymaniyah as of Sept. 29.
“In this case, it will not be possible for Turkish Airlines, AtlasGlobal or Pegasus [airlines] to carry out mutual flights from our country to [Arbil] or Sulaymaniyah” as of Sept. 29, the statement read.
On Wednesday, Egypt’s national air carrier announced that as of Friday it would suspend all flights to Arbil.
Lebanon’s Middle East Airlines also announced plans to halt all flights – also starting on Friday – both to and from northern Iraq’s Kurdish region.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi asked the autonomous Kurdish government on Tuesday to hand over control of the Arbil and Sulaymaniyah airports or else he would suspend direct international flights to and from Kurdistan on Sept. 29.
The Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority then sent a notice on Wednesday to foreign airline companies telling them that international flights to Arbil and Sulaymaniyah would be suspended at 15:00 GMT on Sept. 29 and that only domestic flights would be allowed.
Reacting to Baghdad’s decision, Mawloud Bawah Murad, transport minister of the KRG, refused to hand over control of the two airports, saying the airports were built from the budget of the Kurdistan government.
Despite growing international pressure to call off the referendum, which Iraq’s neighbors, including Turkey and Iran, feared would fuel unrest among their own Kurdish populations, Massoud Barzani, president of Iraqi Kurdistan and leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), said they would hold the referendum on Sept. 25 but might discuss the process with Baghdad. Barzani said a separation of Kurdistan from Iraq could take up to two years.