ERBIL (Sputnik) — The Kurdistan Regional Government considered the decision of the Iraqi authorities to suspend flights to the autonomous region as a "collective punishment" and a blockade, according to a statement published on the government's website on Saturday.
On Friday evening, all international flights to and from Erbil and Sulaymaniyah airports were suspended by the Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority (ICAA). The decision to ground flights followed the refusal of the Kurdistan government to transfer control of Kurdistan regional border posts and airports to the Iraqi central government after a referendum on Iraqi Kurdistan's independence, held earlier this week.
"The closure of the Kurdistan Region airports is a collective punishment and a blockade against the entire population of Kurdistan. It demonstrates the continued legal and humanitarian violations against the people of Kurdistan, under the pretext of enforcing Iraqi federal authority," Kurdistan government spokesman Safeen Dizayee said, as quoted in the statement.
Dizayee stressed that closure of Kurdistan's airspace would prevent transportation of civilians and soldiers wounded in battles with the Islamic State terrorist group (IS, outlawed in Russia) operating in the region. Many Kurdish, Christian and Sunni Arab families will not be able to reunite with their relatives, he added.
The vote on Iraqi Kurdistan independence took place on Monday and resulted in 92.7 percent of voters casting their ballot for the autonomous region's independence from Baghdad. The referendum was initially strongly opposed by Baghdad, as well as by Iran and Turkey.