Turkey resumes flights to Iraq's Sulaimaniyah after 16-month ban

Ankara stopped flights to the Kurdish airport in September 2017 after the Iraqi region held an independence referendum.

    The first Turkish Airlines flight to Sulaimaniyah landed early on Saturday before returning to Turkey [Feriq Ferec/Anadolu]
    The first Turkish Airlines flight to Sulaimaniyah landed early on Saturday before returning to Turkey [Feriq Ferec/Anadolu]

    Turkey has resumed flights to the Iraqi city of Sulaimaniyah after a 16-month boycott, officials in Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region have said.

    A Turkish Airlines flight arrived at Sulaimaniyah airport early on Saturday

    Tahir Abdullah, the director of the airport, said that the restoration of daily flights from Turkey would revive a key revenue stream to the region after Ankara suspended air traffic to and from the city following a controversial independence referendum.

    "The Turkish flight ban has damaged Sulaimaniyah's airport revenue by $5.4 million over the past year," Abdullah said.

    There were 36 percent fewer flights in 2018, with imports dropping by 73 percent and exports by 82 percent, according to Abdullah.

    "Due to the Turkish flight ban, Sulaimaniyah airport loses $15,000 every day," he said.

    Iraqi authorities had halted all international flights to Erbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdish region, and Sulaimaniyah, after the Kurdish region proceded with a controversial independence referendum in September 2017.

    The Kurds had considered the referendum to be an historic step in the generations-old quest for a state of their own, whereas Iraq had considered the vote unconstitutional.

    Turkey also opposed the vote fearing it could boost calls for self-rule among its own Kurdish population.

    Baghdad lifted the ban in March last year following a deal to hand control of two airports to the central government.

    In March, Turkey lifted the ban on Erbil, but kept it on Sulaimaniyah for security reasons.

    The head of Iraq's Civil Aviation Authority, Ali Khalil Ibrahim said Iraqi Airways will resume flights between Sulaimaniyah and Istanbul in the next few days.

    Al Jazeera's Jennifer Glasse contributed to this report.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies