Turkey resumes flights to northern Iraq after 6-month international ban

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A picture taken on March 15, 2018, shows a passengers entering in Arbil International Airport, in the capital of the northern Iraqi Kurdish autonomous region. Iraqi authorities said they were lifting a nearly six-month air blockade imposed on Iraqi Kurdistan in response to its holding of an independence referendum. / AFP PHOTO / SAFIN HAMED

The first Turkish airplane landed at Erbil, the administrative capital of northern Iraq’s Kurdish region, on Tuesday after Turkey lifted its six-month ban on flights to the city, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.

A Turkish Airlines (THY) flight arrived at Erbil International Airport at 2:30 a.m. local time with over 150 passengers on board.

Sayef Gaffur, an Iraqi passenger who lives in Hungary, told Anadolu that he had previously had to enter northern Iraq through the Habur border gate in southeastern Turkey to visit his family in Erbil during the flight ban. 

“It was a difficult journey and took so long,” Gaffur said and added that the lifting of the ban would be convenient for the locals.

Last Friday, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim had announced that Turkey would resume flights to Erbil.

Turkish Airlines CEO Bilal Eksi tweeted the same day that the country’s flag carrier would start regular flights to the Iraqi city on March 26.

Earlier this month, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the international flight ban in the region would be lifted before the Nevruz spring festival on March 21.

An international flight ban was imposed Sept. 29 in response to a referendum on regional independence conducted by the Erbil-based Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

Most regional actors, including Turkey, had voiced opposition to the referendum, warning that it would further destabilize the already volatile region.

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