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Flight ban imposed by Iraq on Kurdistan goes into effect


Backed by Ankara and Tehran, the Iraqi government has demanded that the Kurdish leadership cancel the result of the referendum or face the prospect of sanctions, global isolation and possibly a military intervention. The report did not elaborate.

- The backlash from an independence referendum approved by Iraq's Kurds this week has left the northern Kurdish region increasingly isolated from Baghdad, and the crisis sparked by the vote appears poised to intensify. The vote took place in the three provinces that make up Iraqi Kurdistan, and in the contiguous Iraqi regions that Kurdish forces took from Islamic State (IS).

Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened potentially crippling restrictions on oil trading with Kurdistan, whose crude oil revenues represent a key source of income for the region's economy, and warned he was willing to take "all necessary steps" to protect Turkish interests.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), meanwhile, refused to hand over control of its border crossings to the Iraqi government, as demanded by Iraq, Iran and Turkey in retaliation for the independence referendum. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the plan.

The United Nations has offered to help "solve the problem" between the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) over a Kurdish independence referendum held on Monday, the Iraqi foreign ministry has said.

Wednesday's resolution also called for the closure of border posts with Turkey and Iran that are outside central government control. Undoubtedly, the Kurds in Northern Iraq meet all the requirements for statehood; the only security forces in Northern Iraq are the Kurdish Peshmerga forces and Iraqi troops have not entered the territory since 1996.

- By Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad and Bradley Klapper in Washington D.C.

Hundreds of passengers lined up in the hours before an Iraqi government order that global airlines halt all flights in and out of the cities of Irbil and Sulaimaniyah in Kurdish territory kicked in.

"Our base of measures has been alighned with the bills passed by Iraqi Parliament and decisions mad e by Haider al-Abadi's cabinet", said the Iranian official, "the Iraqi constitution should be the reference and we are obliged to back Baghdad in this cause".

Today, Iraqi Kurdistan's transport ministry sent a letter to Baghdad asking to "open negotiations" on flights but was still awaiting a reply, a ministry spokesman said.

The Turkish premier, for his part, denounced the Kurdish independence referendum as "a strategic mistake" and said the issue, which has its roots in the excessive demands of some individuals, has undermined tranquility in the region.

"We have an worldwide community here, so this is not going to be only against Kurdish people", Irbil airport's director, Talar Faiq Salih, told the BBC on Thursday.

The ban on worldwide flights servicing airports in the Kurdish region is set to go into effect. "An airport isn't an item that can be handed over to someone". The vote has put Kurdish authorities on a collision course with Baghdad. She condemned the ban, accusing the central government of "just punishing their own people".

Passengers wait to depart on a Turkish Airlines flight at a gate at Erbil International airport. The ban was scheduled to kick in Friday evening.

At Irbil's airport, numerous passengers were foreigners who said they were travelling to avoid possibly being stuck once the flight ban goes into effect today.

Turkey had forged close ties to Iraq's Kurdish region, but is strongly opposed to its moves toward independence. "The Arab region is being rocked by attempts to change regimes and divide states, as is the case in Syria, Iraq, and Libya", said the monarch.

Al-Sistani's comments were the first by the top Shiite cleric since Monday's referendum.

"OCHA is working with the authorities to ensure that humanitarian operations in Iraq can continue", it said. The Kurdish leader is not politically suicidal and would never insist on such a controversial step without enough worldwide political support behind him, despite what is overtly announced by the major external powers.

As IS's self-styled caliphate crumbles, the question of what comes after it hangs over the Middle East. Mr Barzani has acted to prevent a return to the status quo ante, in which there was no Kurdish state.

In the Mideast, Turkey and Iran ordered an end to flights and Qatar Air said it will halt services Friday "until further notice".

"The entire global community should present a consistent, unhesitant, and clear stance on protecting Iraq's territorial integrity and political union at the current stage", said Ministry spokesman Huseyin Muftuoglu in a written statement.

Regional airlines have said they will honor the flight ban.

Preliminary results suggest that it was hugely successful at home - a 91 per cent "yes" vote on a 72 per cent turn-out - but there's going to be a big, ugly backlash from the neighbours.

The picture caused indignation and fury among Kurdish MPs from all the political parties and social media users.

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