Iraq Gives Kurds Three Days to Hand Over Control Over Airports to Avoid Flight Ban

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Kurds celebrate to show their support for the independence referendum in Duhok, Iraq, September 26, 2017.
Kurds celebrate to show their support for the independence referendum in Duhok, Iraq, September 26, 2017.Credit: ARI JALAL/REUTERS

The Iraqi government gave the Kurdistan Regional Government three days to hand over control of its airports in order to avoid an international air embargo, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Tuesday, according to state TV. 

The measure is meant as a retaliation against the independence referendum held by the KRG in northern Iraq on Monday. 

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Last week, Baghdad asked foreign countries to stop direct flights to the international airports of Erbil and Sulaimaniya, in KRG territory, but only Iran declared such an air embargo, halting direct flights to Kurdistan. 

Tehran has vowed to stand alongside Baghdad and Ankara against the outcome of the referendum. On Tuesday, Iranian state media quoted an army commander as saying that new missile systems have been installed in western provinces that border Iraqi Kurdish areas to "firmly respond to any invasion." 

"The Iraqi people won't stand silent. Iran and Turkey and other regional countries won't stand silent and will stand against this abhorrent deviation," Ali Akbar Velayati, the top adviser to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was quoted as saying by ISNA news agency. "The Muslim nations will not allow the creation of a second Israel." 

Velayati did not say what action Iran had in mind. However, the country's media have compared the Kurds' desire for a homeland with the 1948 creation of Israel. The Islamic republic regards the Jewish state as its greatest enemy along with the United States. 

The vote organized by Kurdish authorities is expected to deliver a comfortable "yes" for independence, but is not binding. However, it is designed to give Masoud Barzani, who heads the KRG, a mandate to negotiate the secession of the oil-producing region.

Iran, Iraq and Turkey - countries with Kurdish minorities - have all denounced the referendum as a threat to the stability of a region already beset by conflict, while the United States has expressed similar disquiet

On Monday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered security services "to protect citizens being threatened and coerced" in the Kurdish region, after unconfirmed reports that Arabs in a small town in eastern Iraq were compelled to vote yes. Kurdish officials say no such coercion happened.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that Turkey could cut off the pipeline that carries oil from northern Iraq to the outside world, piling more pressure on the Kurds. "After this, let's see through which channels the northern Iraqi regional government will send its oil, or where it will sell it," Erdogan said in Istanbul. "We have the tap. The moment we close the tap, then it's done."

As polls closed on Monday evening, the Iraqi army started "major maneuvers" with the Turkish army at the border, outlining coordinated measures by the two countries against the Kurds in retaliation for the referendum. Turkey later took the Rudaw TV channel off its satellite service TurkSat, a Turkish broadcasting official told Reuters

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