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All international flights to Erbil to end Friday, says airport chief

The move comes after a decision by the Iraqi cabinet and PM Haider al-Abadi to halt all flights serving airports in Iraqi Kurdistan (AFP)
The entrance of Erbil International Airport, in the capital of the northern Iraqi Kurdish autonomous region

All foreign flights to and from the Iraqi Kurdish regional capital Erbil will be suspended from Friday evening, its airport director Talar Faiq Salih said.

"All international flights without exception to and from Erbil will stop from 6pm (1500 GMT) on Friday following a decision by the Iraqi cabinet and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi," she told AFP on Thursday.

Abadi ordered the halt to flights serving airports in Iraqi Kurdistan in retaliation for a Monday independence referendum held in defiance of Baghdad which delivered a resounding 92.73 "yes" vote.

Regional carriers, including Turkish Airlines, EgyptAir and Lebanon's Middle East Airlines had already announced that they would be suspending their flights serving Iraqi Kurdistan at Baghdad's request.

Tensions in the region have been rising since the vote in Kurdistan.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Iraq's former national security advisor and a Baghdad MP, said on Thursday that the Iraqi government would use “any means possible” to reverse the referendum result.

Rubaie, the chair of government committee of the Iraqi National Alliance, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the Iraqi government would not rule out using military force.

“This is partition of a country that has been together for 5,000 years. They cannot walk away like this,” he said.

Rubaie's comments came as Qatar Airways announced it is cancelling flights to Kurdish northern Iraq from Friday until Sunday at the request of Iraq's Civil Aviation Authority. 

The flights to and from Erbil and Sulaymaniyah have been cancelled after the move by the Iraqi government, the carrier said in a statement on its website.

The Erbil airport director said she deeply regretted the decision, which she said would hamper the campaign against the Islamic State group in Iraq and neighbouring Syria, as well as the delivery of aid to those displaced by it. 

"We have consulates, international staff, international companies, so it's going to affect everyone. It's not a right decision," Salih said. 

"We have a big international community here, so this is not only against Kurdish people. 

"We also have a big number of refugees using this airport and we used to be a bridge between Syria and the UN to send humanitarian aid to those places. 

"And we are hosting (US-led) coalition forces here, so this airport is meant to be for everything."

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