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Int’l flights to Iraqi Kurdistan stop as Baghdad pressures Arbil over independence referendum

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All international flights to cities governed by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq stopped on Friday night after the Baghdad administration requested that foreign carriers halt flights due to a referendum held Monday for a separate state in the region.

The ban came into effect as of 6 p.m. local time on Friday for flights to and from Sulaymaniyah and Arbil.

In addition, Iran prohibited the transport of oil to and from Iraqi Kurdistan.

According to Iran’s Tasnim news agency, a directive was issued by the Road Maintenance and Transportation Organization of Iran’s Roads and Urban Development Ministry saying:

Given the recent developments in the region, it is suitable that international transportation companies and drivers active in this field avoid loading and carrying oil products to and from the Iraqi Kurdistan Region until further notice.”

Baghdad also said on Friday that the Iraqi military plans to take control of the borders of its Kurdistan region “in coordination” with Iran and Turkey.

According to the Tasnim news agency, Iran will also stage military drills with the Iraqi military near its border with Kurdistan.

Iraqi soldiers have already joined maneuvers with Turkey on its border with northern Iraq.

Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron said late on Friday that he has invited Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to visit Paris on Oct. 5 to discuss consequences of the Kurdistan referendum and to calm tensions in the region.

“Emmanuel Macron stressed the importance of preserving the unity and integrity of Iraq while recognizing the rights of the Kurdish people. Any escalation must be avoided,” the French Presidency said in a statement.

Contradicting this, Abadi said on Saturday that the invitation from Macron to visit Paris was not related to the Kurdish independence referendum.

The invitation was delivered to Abadi on Aug. 26 by the French foreign and defense ministers during a visit to Baghdad, Abadi’s office said in a statement, adding that its purpose was “to strengthen bilateral relations and concentrate efforts on fighting terrorism.”

A phone call between Abadi and Macron, after Monday’s referendum “did not mention in any way the need to recognize the rights of the Kurdish people,” said Abadi’s statement.

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