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 Iraq's Kurdistan airports anxious about Baghdad's control over Kurdish airspace

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Iraq's Kurdistan airports anxious about Baghdad's control over Kurdish airspace  3.7.2012 


Tahir Abdullah, director of the Sulaimani International Airport, Kurdistan region of Iraq. Photo Rudaw. See Related Links

Talar Fayiq, director of the Erbil International Airport, Kurdistan region of Iraq. Photo Rudaw.
July 3, 2012

SULAIMANIYAH, Kurdistan region 'Iraq', — The directors of Kurdistan’s airports have expressed concern that Baghdad could close the region’s airspace due to tensions between Kurdish and Iraqi authorities if current aviation laws are not modified.

Tahir Abdullah, director of the Sulaimani International Airport, told Rudaw that Baghdad controls Kurdistan’s airspace and that the Kurdish government does not have any authority.

He warned that, if relations between Baghdad and Erbil continue to sour, “Iraqi aviation authorities might freeze the work of our airports and not allow any planes to land here.”

Abdullah urged regional authorities and Kurdish MPs in Baghdad to make an effort to amend the aviation law “or find another solution so that we do not face a disaster and won’t be embarrassed further vis-à-vis companies and tourists.”

Tour agencies and airlines need to receive Baghdad’s permission to fly to Kurdistan airports, Abdullah said, and the Iraqi government also imposes conditions which force them to raise the price of tickets and services.

Khanda Anwar Muhammad, a sales manager with Azmar Airline in the Kurdistan Region, says they need to obtain Baghdad’s permission for every inbound and outbound flight.

“This is a lengthy process and they do a lot of investigating,” she said.

“If we only needed permission from the Erbil and Sulaimani airports, our jobs would be easier. Sometimes, because of security problems in Baghdad, our work gets very complicated and difficult.”

Nawroz Abdulqadir, director of the Arbat Agricultural Airport in Sulaimani province and a member of the Aviation Engineering Board, says, “When the Kurdistan Regional Government can provide its own security on the ground, it’s unreasonable for them to not also provide air security as well.”

Talar Fayiq, director of the Erbil International Airport, voiced similar concerns.

“If one day Baghdad closes our skies, what can we do?” asked Fayiq. “If Baghdad has problems with any country, they will close our skies to that country as well, as they did to Turkey a while ago.”

Fayiq said Baghdad has already started to pressure the Erbil and Sulaimani airports. She called on Kurdish officials to resolve “this huge problem.”

She added that many international airlines would like to fly to Erbil and Sulaimani airports “but Baghdad does not allow them or creates problems for them.”

Shwan Muhammad, a Kurdish MP in Iraqi Parliament,www.ekurd.net said there is a bill in the legislature to amend the current aviation law that has already been rejected “because it gave no authority to the Kurdistan Region.”

Muhammad added that the Iraqi constitution only gives authority to the central government to control airports as they are considered as border ports.

Hassan Jihad, a Kurdish MP and member of the Security and Defense Committee in Iraqi Parliament, said the bill as it is will be rejected again.

“We believe that the bill has to be ratified based on national consensus and through a majority/minority mechanism,” said Jihad.

But Abdulqadir said that Kurdistan does not see one penny of the income made from its skies. She said Erbil’s airport has an income of around $350 million per year, but it all goes to Baghdad.

Imad Ahmed, deputy prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), told Rudaw, “We are planning to establish a civil aviation agency in Kurdistan and organize the Erbil and Sulaimani airports within that.”

KRG’s minister of transportation and communication, Johnson Siyawash, said the Iraqi government is trying to politicize civil aviation law the same way they did oil and gas and other outstanding disputes between Erbil and Baghdad.

Siyawash believes that when the KRG establishes its own civil aviation agency “it will get rid of many of the problems.”

“We will not accept any provision related to Iraqi aviation law that will violate Kurdistan’s rights,” he added.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Maliki has said on a number of occasions that central authorities do not know what is happening in Kurdistan’s airports.

“Maliki says he doesn’t know how the airports here work, what planes land or fly out,” said Fayiq. “But because everything is in their control and the situation is tense, I cannot answer him.”

But the director of Iraqi Civil Aviation Agency, Nasser Hussein Bandar, told Rudaw that the KRG request for some aviation authority “is not sensible and will lead to chaos.”

Bandar believes the central government should control aviation, and that two authorities would lead to confusion. If the KRG was to establish its own aviation authority, it would have to meet the conditions of Iraqi civil aviation, according to Bandar.

“The authority to close down airports and control air traffic flow would rest with Baghdad,” he explained.

By Nawzad Mahmoud- Rudaw

Copyright ©, respective author or news agency, rudaw.net 


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