Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Friday his planned flight ban into and out of the Kurdish region isn’t meant to “starve” the Kurdish people.
On Friday at 6 p.m. local time, all international flights to the region are set to be cancelled — retaliation for the Kurdish independence referendum this week that passed with more than 92 percent of the vote.
Humanitarian workers say the flight cancellations could have a “dire impact” on the lives of the region’s 1.6 million refugees and displaced people.
Abadi, though, in a written statement, said “central government control of air and land ports in the Kurdistan region is not meant to starve, besiege and prevent [the delivery of] supplies to the citizens in the region as alleged by some Kurdistan region officials.”
Calling the vote "unconstitutional," Iraq's parliament on Wednesday also asked Abadi to send troops to the oil-producing, Kurdish-held region of Kirkuk to take control of its lucrative oil fields.
It told the 34 countries that have diplomatic missions in Kurdistan to shut them down, and it urged Abadi to enforce a decision to fire Kirkuk Gov. Najmaldin Karim for holding the vote.
The parliament also called for the deployment of forces to areas that were under Iraqi government control before the fall of Mosul to Islamic State more than three years ago.
"We will enforce federal authority in the Kurdistan region, and we already have starting doing that," Abadi said.
The director of Irbil airport, Talar Saleh, said he was confused by the order from Baghdad to hand over the airport and unsure of how he should comply.
“We didn't understand what it meant,” she said. “An airport isn't an item that can be handed over to someone.”
She said authorities in Baghdad never responded to her requests for clarification.
Saleh said military, humanitarian and diplomatic flights will continue from the airport.