The Iraqi government has banned international flights from landing in Kurdistan. Locals say it’s causing major financial trauma and is unfair collective punishment. No one knows when the ban will be lifted either.
It has been just over a month now since the two major airports in the semi-autonomous northern region of Iraqi Kurdistan were closed to international air traffic. The closure came as a result of the referendum on Kurdish independence held in the region in late September.
The federal government in Iraq had said the referendum was unconstitutional and as a result, one day after it was held, the federal government demanded it be given control of Iraqi Kurdistan’s border points and airports. It was clearly also a way to ratchet up pressure on the Kurdish.
The Kurdish were given three days to hand over their airports or face the threat of international flights being cancelled. After the 29th and 30th of September, this happened – the only exempt flights were domestic ones as well as military, diplomatic or UN delegation flights.
Losses as a result of this ban at both airports are now estimated to be as high as US$1 million per day, according to Kurdish officials who spoke with NIQASH. The number of passengers has fallen to less than 300 per day. Up until the ban, there had been at least 2,000 passengers per day coming through the airports.
Before the ban there had been between 70 and 100 flights a week, carrying between 1,000 and 1,500 people a day, Sulaymaniyah’s airport director, Taher Abdullah, told NIQASH. “But now we don’t get more than 100 to 150 people and most of those are the passengers travelling through Baghdad,” Abdullah noted.
Formerly the Kurdish airports had been doing almost around half of Iraq’s international aviation business. The Iraqi Kurdish region has long been a favourite launching point for foreigners in Iraq as the region has tended to be more peaceful and prosperous than other parts of the country.