Iran bans oil product traffic to and from Kurdistan

Kurdistan flags adorn the airport in Erbil, Iraq. The Baghdad government has ordered the Kurdish authorities to surrender control of the region's two international airports, and has banned all international flights to the region.
Kurdistan flags adorn the airport in Erbil, Iraq. The Baghdad government has ordered the Kurdish authorities to surrender control of the region's two international airports, and has banned all international flights to the region.PHOTO: NYTIMES

It follows Iraq's flight ban after Kurds vote for independence

ANKARA (Turkey) • Iran has banned the transportation of refined crude oil products by Iranian companies to and from Iraq's Kurdistan region, after Teheran vowed to stand by Baghdad following the region's vote for independence.

"A directive by the Road and Transportation Organisation has temporarily banned carrying oil products from Iran to Iraq's Kurdistan region and vice versa following the latest developments in that region," the semi-official Tasnim news agency said yesterday.

Iraq's Kurds overwhelmingly backed a call for independence in a referendum on Monday, defying neighbouring Turkey and Iran, which fear the vote would inflame the separatist aspirations of their own sizeable Kurdish populations.

A ban on international flights to Iraq's Kurdish region was in place yesterday as the Baghdad government retaliated against the vote. Almost all foreign airlines suspended flights to Erbil and Sulaimaniyah, obeying a notice from Baghdad, which controls Iraqi air space.

Iran, which has its own Kurdish minority, on Sunday halted flights to and from Kurdish regions.

Washington has said it would be willing to facilitate talks between the Iraqi Kurdish authorities and Baghdad to calm escalating tensions over the 92 per cent "yes" vote for independence.

Ankara has threatened a series of measures against the Kurds, including blocking crucial oil exports from the region via Turkey.

The Kurds have condemned the flight suspension as "collective punishment".

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

The ban has seen people, many of them foreigners, flock to the airport in the regional capital Erbil to avoid being stranded.

An extended suspension of flights would have significant consequences for the Kurds, who have turned Erbil into a regional transport hub.

Iraqi Kurdistan is home to a large international community. Most of the foreigners enter on a visa issued by the regional authorities that is not recognised by the central government, so they cannot travel to other places in Iraq.

Yesterday, around 100 passengers waited eagerly for their planes in Erbil, where the airport's information board showed the last flight out was to Vienna at 4pm, with later flights cancelled.

"We were supposed to go back to Brazil next Saturday but we rescheduled our flight because of the border closing," said Mr Isidoro Junior, a 32-year-old volunteer for a non-government organisation providing medical assistance to Iraqis displaced by the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

"We are a group of 16 people, so it was quite difficult to find enough seats. One of us came here at 2am to make sure... we would be able to fly out," he said.

In the region's second-largest city, Sulaimaniyah, foreigners and others needing to leave sped to the airport, while Kurds who were abroad for business or tourism rushed back from abroad.

"There have been masses of people for two days," said airport spokesman Dana Mohammad Said.

"After 6pm there will be no more international flights, just internal flights," he said.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's highest Shi'ite religious authority, has called for all sides "to abide by the Iraqi Constitution and to appeal to High Federal Court to solve the Kurdistan crisis".

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 30, 2017, with the headline 'Iran bans oil product traffic to and from Kurdistan'. Print Edition | Subscribe