An aircraft at Erbil International Airport. Photo: Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The Iraqi government has suspended the flights of two small airlines that operate between Europe and the Kurdistan Region, an airport official in Erbil said, the latest in an oil feud between Baghdad and the autonomous Kurds.
Iraqi transportation minister Hadi Amri said the action against Germania and Hormuz airlines was because of failure to comply with unidentified regulations, but Kurdish officials saw it as the latest move in a dispute between Baghdad and Erbil over oil exports and revenues.
"The Baghdad government does not allow Germania and Hormuz airlines to fly to Kurdistan and flights have been suspended since Saturday," said Talar Faiaq, the director of Erbil International Airport.
The airspace over all of Iraq, including the Kurdistan Region in the north, is controlled by the Iraq Civil Aviation Authority (ICAA).
In December 2012, Baghdad denied permission to a plane carrying Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz from landing Erbil, preventing him from attending an important oil and gas conference.
An aviation expert told Rudaw that the decision affects only those two carriers, which have been suspended not only from Kurdistan but also from Baghdad.
Amri, the Iraqi transportation minister, said the reason for the suspension was the alleged failure of the airlines to comply with regulations.
"We have special instructions, and they have not committed to them. We will suspend any airline that is uncommitted," he warned.
Amri also denied that the decision was related to the Erbil-Baghdad oil row. “This has no relation to the Kurdistan Region. Don't link everything to the Kurdistan Region.”
Baghdad and Erbil are locked in a complex political feud. The Kurds insist that their autonomy gives them constitutional rights to exploit and export their own vast oil and gas resources, and have signed a comprehensive oil and gas deal with energy-hungry Turkey next door.
Baghdad has opposed the deal. To force Erbil to concede control over revenues to the federal government, it has frozen the KRG’s monthly deposits from the national budget, which go to pay for things like government salaries.
Kurdish officials see the move against the airlines as another pressure tactic by Baghdad.
Faiaq, the director of Erbil airport, said that Baghdad continues to create problems for flights to Kurdistan, which remains the only stable and prosperous portion of violence-torn Iraq. Major Gulf airlines and some European and regional carriers operate regular flights to Erbil
"They (Baghdad) are always trying to make hindrances for us. For example, Lufthansa had four flight per week; they made us reduce that to two," she said.
Travelers, some caught unawares, compained about the decision by Baghdad.
“I dont know what my fate is now, whether we will fly or not,” said a passenger waiting to board a flight to Kurdistan at the German city of Munich.
“I am a business owner and I dont know what to do or say."
Blaming Baghdad, he complained that “it does not let the Kurds go on with their own business."