Turkey extends flight ban on Iraq’s Sulaimaniyah for six months

This marks the third extension of Turkey’s decision to bar flights to and from Sulaimaniyah through its airspace since the initial three-month ban was implemented on 3 April of last year. [Getty]

Turkey has decided to extend the ban on flights through Turkish airspace to and from Sulaimaniyah International Airport in Iraqi Kurdistan for an additional six months, the airport director said.  

Turkey extended its flight ban on Sulaimaniyah Airport until 7 December 2024, Handren Mufti, the director of Sulaimaniyah International Airport, told The New Arab on Sunday.

This marks the third extension of Turkey’s decision to bar flights to and from Sulaimaniyah through its airspace since the initial three-month ban was implemented on April 3 of last year. The latest extension, enacted in December, is set to expire on 22 June.

Turkey’s foreign ministry had announced in April 2023 that it was suspending access to its airspace for flights to and from the airport until 3 January 2024, citing security concerns over the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant group.

“Turkey has extended the suspension for another six months, effective until 22 June 2024,” Mufti told TNA in December 2023. 

“The reason is that Turkey refuses to open flights to and from the airport, and Ankara also disagrees with opening its airspace to all flights from the airport,” Mufti added.

Mufti declined to talk about the issue of the PKK directly, but he said that the airport is “very safe for flights” and that “no security breaches had happened in the airport”.

He said major airlines had been continuing to operate flights to and from the airport.

“If the airport had any terrorist activities, then those airlines should have had similar reactions,” Mufti said.

The Turkish flight ban on the airport has led to significant losses because travellers bound for Europe, who now have to use transit through Doha in Qatar and Dubai in the UAE. The Turkish decision resulted in a reduction of more than 100 flights per month, which means that flights to and from the airport decreased by 35 to 40% monthly.

A Kurdish source speaking on condition of anonymity told TNA in April that during Erdogan’s visit to Iraq, he linked removing the ban on flights from Sulaimaniyah Airport to Turkey’s having a share in the Khor Mor gas field. Still, officials in the ruling Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) have rejected the suggestion, the source added.  

Following the Kurdistan Region’s failed independence referendum from Iraq in 2017, the Iraqi federal government ordered the closure of international airspace to Erbil and Sulaimaniyah airports. While Turkey and many other countries reopened their airspace to flights bound for Erbil in March 2018, Ankara has continued to ban flights to Sulaimaniyah, citing the province’s alleged support for the PKK by the PUK.

In 2017, Ankara expelled the PUK’s representative to Turkey after the PKK captured two Turkish intelligence agents in Sulaimaniyah province.

Additionally, Turkey frequently conducts air and drone strikes on alleged PKK targets in the province, consequently, many civilians have been killed and wounded. 

In March 2023, two helicopters mysteriously crashed in the Duhok province of the Kurdistan region, killing at least nine members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)—including the group’s counter-terrorism commander Shervan Kobani, a cousin of SDF leader Mazloum Abdi.

The SDF said the delegation was on its way to Sulaimaniyah “to exchange security and military expertise”, and they crashed due to “bad weather”.

The SDF, an umbrella group in northeast Syria, is primarily made up of fighters from the People’s Protection Forces (YPG) —a group Turkey claims is the Syrian offshoot of the PKK and labels as a terror organisation.

Ankara has mounted repeated armed incursions to force its fighters out of areas near the Turkey-Syria border.

Turkey’s foreign ministry announced weeks later that flights from Turkey to the airport would be banned due to the “intensification of the PKK terrorist organisation’s activities in Sulaymaniyah, infiltration by the terrorist organisation into the airport, and thus the threatening of flight safety”. 

Abdi survived a drone attack in the vicinity of the airport, just days after Turkey decided to ban flights to the airport.

Three members of the Counter Terrorism Group (CTG), affiliated with the PUK were killed, and three others were wounded when a drone targeted the Arbat Airport in Sulaimaniyah province.

Source link

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *