Iraq PM lifts flight ban to Kurdish region's airports

Baghdad ends air blockade of Iraqi Kurdistan

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Tuesday lifted a ban on worldwide flights to two airports in Erbil and Sulaimaniyah in the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan.

The announcement comes six months after the airports were shut to worldwide flights following a controversial referendum vote in northern Iraq's self-ruled Kurdish region that was deemed illegal by Baghdad.

Iraq's Kurds overwhelmingly backed independence from federal Iraq in the September 25 vote.

At a joint press conference with KRG Finance Minister Rebaz Hamlan, Iraqi Central Bank Governor Ali Mohsen al-Alaq said the KRG had voluntarily surrendered its right to operate, regulate and supervise local banks to the central government in Baghdad.

"Kurdistan's regional airports will be under the command of the Federal Ministry of the Interior", the statement said.

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The move "aims to facilitate the travel of citizens" through the two airports, the statement said.

The passports and national ID offices and the employees at the airports of Erbil and Sulaimaniyah will also be linked to the federal Interior Ministry, it added.

It was not immediately clear whether the region would continue to maintain its independent visa system.

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 a year ago.

Tensions rose between Baghdad and the region of Kurdistan after the Kurds held a controversial referendum last September to approve the independence of the Kurdistan region and the disputed areas.

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