Iraq extends Kurdistan international flight ban

Arbil (Iraq) (AFP) –


Iraqi authorities have extended through February an international flight ban slapped on the autonomous Kurdish region in response to a controversial independence vote, an airport official said on Thursday.

Baghdad severed Iraqi Kurdistan's air links to the outside world in late September after it voted overwhelmingly for independence in a non-binding referendum rejected as illegal by the central government.

The flight ban was just part of a battery of penalties inflicted on the Kurds as Baghdad sought to nullify the poll, with federal forces also seizing disputed oil-rich regions in a major blow for their finances.

Talar Faiq Saleh, the director of the airport in Iraqi Kurdistan's capital Arbil, said the transport ministry in Baghdad had sent a message signalling that international flights were "banned until February 28".

"Only internal flights are authorised," she said.

The two-month extension sees Baghdad keeping up the pressure on Iraqi Kurdistan as the fallout from the failed independence push has battered its economy.

A spate of angry protests that have seen the offices of political parties torched in a string of towns has rocked the region this month.

Nechirvan Barzani, the Kurdistan premier, on Thursday denounced what he called "collective punishment imposed by the central government on the entire people of Kurdistan".

Barzani accused Baghdad of using the air blockade to exert pressure on the country's northern region ahead of negotiations between the two parties.