Number of airlines halting flights to and from the Iraqi Kurdish regional capital, Erbil, grows following non-binding referendum on independence.
Iraq has suspended all international flights to and from the Iraqi Kurdish capital Erbil from Friday as Baghdad cranks up the pressure on the Kurds over their independence referendum.
"All international flights without exception to and from Erbil will stop from 1500 GMT (6:00 pm) on Friday following a decision by the Iraqi cabinet and Prime Minister Haider al Abadi," the airport’s director Talar Faiq Salih said on Thursday.
The cut in foreign air links is Baghdad's first retaliatory measure for Monday's 92 percent "yes" vote in the non-binding referendum for independence held by the KRG.
Previously, the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi said he would ban "international flights to and from Kurdistan" from Friday onwards unless the airports in Erbil and the city of Sulaimaniyah were placed under the control of the federal government in Baghdad.
The transport minister of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), Mawloud Bawah Murad, expressed bafflement at the move by Baghdad.
"We want more clarifications from the Iraqi government on its demand to hand them the two airports,” he told a press conference in Erbil.
Airlines halt flights to and from Erbil
Regional carriers, including, EgyptAir, Lebanon's Middle East Airlines, FlyDubai and Air Arabia, already announced that they would be suspending their flights serving Iraq's north at Baghdad's request.
A statement posted on the Turkish consulate's website in Erbil said on Wednesday that flights by the carriers Turkish Airlines, AtlasGlobal and Pegasus to and from the two cities "won't be possible" after Friday evening. It said added that authorities were working to increase flights until Friday.
Jordan's national airline Royal Jordanian and Qatar Airways also said that they will halt flights to Iraq's Kurdish region as of 6:00 pm Friday until further notice.
'Fight against Daesh disrupted'
The US along with major European and regional nations all emphasised the destabilising effects of the referendum during a time when all sides are still fighting against Daesh.
"There has been an effect on the overall mission to defeat Daesh in Iraq as a result of the referendum,” said Colonel Ryan Dillon, a spokesperson for the US-led coalition. "The focus which used to be like a laser beam on [Daesh] is now not 100 percent there.”