Iraq is reopening airports in the country’s Kurdish region to international flights after federal authority was restored at the hubs, according to a statement from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Tuesday.
The announcement comes some six months after the airports were initially shut to international flights following a controversial referendum vote in northern Iraq’s self-ruled Kurdish region that overwhelmingly backed independence from Baghdad.
The airports are due to open “within a few days” government spokesman Saad al-Hadithi told The Associated Press.
The Kurdish independence vote last September, though non-binding, was held across the autonomous region’s three provinces as well as in some disputed territories controlled by Iraqi Kurdish security forces but claimed by Baghdad.
The referendum was vehemently rejected by Baghdad and Iraq’s other neighbors, ratcheting up tensions in the region on the heels of military victories against the Daesh (also known as ISIL or ISIS) group.
The decision to lift the flight ban comes as Iraq is preparing for national elections slated to be held in May. Initially, al-Aabdi’s tough line on Iraq’s Kurds translated into widespread public support among his base in Iraq’s Shiite-heartland.
However, Iraqi parliament remains deeply divided, raising fears of a protracted government formation process following national elections. Kurdish lawmakers boycotted a recent vote in parliament approving the country’s 2018 budget.
Iraq’s small landlocked Kurdish region has been increasingly isolated following the September referendum, straining relations with key allies such as the United States and neighboring Turkey.