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Passengers arrive at Erbil International Airport, Iraq September 27, 2017. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari(reuters_tickers)
By Raya Jalabi
ERBIL, Iraq (Reuters) - The Kurdistan Regional Government on Wednesday rejected an Iraqi government ultimatum to hand control of its international airports to Baghdad.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, reacting to the independence referendum held by the autonomous Kurdish government on Monday, had told the KRG to hand over control of Erbil and Sulaimaniya airports or else he would suspend direct international flights to and from Kurdistan on Friday.
But KRG Transport Minister Mowlud Murad told a news conference in the Kurdish capital Erbil, said keeping control of the airports and keeping direct flights to Erbil was needed for Kurdish authorities and security forces as part of the fight against Islamic State militants.
He expressed the hope that the crisis could be resolved by Friday as it would also hurt Kurdistan's economy.
The Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority has sent a notice to foreign airlines companies telling them that international flights to Erbil and Sulaimaniya will be suspended at 1500 GMT and only domestic flights will be allowed. Abadi on Tuesday said the flights will be halted at 3:00 p.m., or 1200 GMT.
Iran said last week it was stopping flights to Kurdistan at the request of the Iraqi government. Lebanon's Middle East Airlines is suspending its daily flight to Erbil, which has a sizeable Lebanese community, from Friday.
Among other airlines flying to Erbil are FlyDubai, Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian, Turkish Airlines and Austrian.
(Reporting by Raya Jalabi in Erbil and Sarah Dadouch in Beirut, Writing by Maher Chmaytelli, Editing by Angus MacSwan)