Iraq has ended a nearly six-month air blockade imposed on its Kurdistan after the semi-autonomous region held a controversial referendum on secession last September.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Tuesday the airports of Arbil and Sulaimaniyah were “again open to international flights” after the federal authority was restored at the hubs.
Tensions flared up between the region and the central government in Baghdad after the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) held a highly controversial plebiscite on secession on September 25 last year.
The referendum was held despite strong opposition from Baghdad, the international community, and Iraq’s neighboring countries, especially Turkey and Iran.
It opened up a persisting rift between the semi-autonomous region and the central government in Baghdad.
Following the provocative vote, Baghdad imposed a ban on direct international flights to and from the Kurdish region and called for a halt to its independent crude oil sales. The KRG at the time described such measures as “collective punishment.”
Since the air ban was enforced, all Kurdistan-bound international flights have been rerouted to Baghdad, which has also imposed entry visas to foreigners wishing to visit the Kurdistan region.
In October 2017, Iraqi federal forces retook control of the Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk and many disputed territories in response to the Kurdish referendum.
Kirkuk is not one of the three provinces that have made up the Kurdish region since 2003. However, Kurdish militants used a vacuum created when government troops were fighting against Daesh terrorists to overtake the oil-rich city.