Iraqi PM reopens Kurdish airports to international flights

A Kurdish flag hangs in Irbil International Airport. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi said that he is reopening airports in Iraq’s Kurdish region to international flights after federal authority was restored at the hubs. (AP Photo)
Updated 13 March 2018
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Iraqi PM reopens Kurdish airports to international flights

BAGHDAD: Iraq is reopening airports in the country’s Kurdish region to international flights after federal authority was restored at the hubs, according to a statement from Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi on Tuesday.
The announcement comes some six months after the airports were initially shut to international flights following a controversial referendum vote in northern Iraq’s self-ruled Kurdish region that overwhelmingly backed independence from Baghdad.
The airports are due to open “within a few days” government spokesman Saad Al-Hadithi told The Associated Press.
Al-Abadi described the move as “a gift to the people of Kurdistan,” during a meeting aired on Iraqi state television and added that the central government would also release salaries for government employees in the Kurdish region ahead of the celebration of the Kurdish new year later this month.
During the same meeting Tuesday, the interior minister added that 500 people suspected of having ties to the Daesh group were handed over to the central government from the Kurdish region.
At a news conference in Irbil, the prime minister of Iraq’s Kurdish region, Nechirvan Barzani, described Al-Abadi’s decision as “a step in the right direction,” and said he would continue to work to resolve issues between the region and the central government.
The Kurdish independence vote last September, though non-binding, was held across the autonomous region’s three provinces as well as in some disputed territories controlled by Iraqi Kurdish security forces but claimed by Baghdad.
The referendum was vehemently rejected by Baghdad and Iraq’s other neighbors, ratcheting up tensions in the region on the heels of military victories against the Daesh group.
The decision to lift the flight ban comes as Iraq is preparing for national elections slated to be held in May. Initially, Al-Aabdi’s tough line on Iraq’s Kurds translated into widespread public support among his base in Iraq’s Shiite-heartland.
However, Iraqi parliament remains deeply divided, raising fears of a protracted government formation process following national elections. Kurdish lawmakers boycotted a recent vote in parliament approving the country’s 2018 budget.
Iraq’s small landlocked Kurdish region has been increasingly isolated following the September referendum, straining relations with key allies such as the United States and neighboring Turkey.


Libya rivals clash south of capital, causing blackouts

Updated 18 September 2018
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Libya rivals clash south of capital, causing blackouts

  • Tuesday morning’s clashes centered on the main road to Tripoli’s long-closed international airport
  • Libya’s National Electricity Company said its network had been damaged, causing a total blackout across the country

TRIPOLI: New clashes flared between rival militias south of Libya’s capital Tripoli on Tuesday, causing widespread power outages, the national electricity firm said.
The fighting underscored the fragility of a United Nations-backed cease-fire reached earlier this month after days of deadly violence between armed groups in the capital, beset by turmoil since the fall of dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
Tuesday morning’s clashes centered on the main road to Tripoli’s long-closed international airport, according to witnesses including an AFP journalist.
Libya’s National Electricity Company said its network had been damaged, causing a total blackout across the North African nation’s south and west.
Fighting which broke out late last month killed at least 63 people and wounded 159 others — mostly civilians — before the cease-fire came into effect on September 4.
Last week, the capital’s only working airport came under rocket fire just days after reopening following the truce.
Mitiga International Airport, located in a former military base that includes a prison, is currently controlled by the Special Deterrence Forces, a Salafist militia which serves as Tripoli’s police force and has been involved in clashes around the capital.
Interior Minister Abdessalam Ashour said Monday that a “regular force” would be tasked with securing the airport.
UN envoy Ghassan Salame later reported 14 cease-fire violations around Tripoli, but sought to play them down, saying the deal had been “generally respected.”
Tripoli’s main airport has been out of action since it was severely damaged by similar clashes in 2014.
Since Qaddafi’s fall in 2011, oil-rich Libya has been rocked by violence between dozens of armed groups vying for control of its cities and vast oil resources.
A UN-brokered agreement signed in Morocco in December 2015 established the Government of National Accord (GNA) in a bid to ease the chaos.
But deep divisions remain between the GNA and rivals including military strongman Khalifa Haftar, who is based in eastern Libya and backs a competing authority.
The GNA last week announced a series of measures to secure the capital and curb the influence of militias over state institutions and banks.