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Iraq: Kurdish Independence Referendum Row Escalates | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi (AP/Hadi Mizban)

The Iraqi parliament on Wednesday asked Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to send troops to the Kurdish-held region of Kirkuk and take control of its oilfields after rising tension caused by the independence referendum in northern Iraq, state TV reported.

“The government has to bring back the oilfields of Kirkuk under the control of the oil ministry,” said the resolution voted by parliament in Baghdad, seen by Reuters.

It called on Abadi to “issue orders for the security forces to deploy in the disputed areas, including Kirkuk”.

Earlier, Abadi demanded that Kurdish authorities “cancel” the outcome of the referendum, as a condition for dialogue to resolve the escalating crisis.

“We won’t have a dialogue about the referendum outcome,” Abadi told the parliament in a speech. “If they want to start talks, they must cancel the referendum and its outcome.”

Abadi renewed his ultimatum to Masoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to hand over control of international airports to federal authorities by Friday or face a ban on direct international flights to the Kurdish region.

People in northern Iraq voted overwhelmingly in favor of independence in Monday’s non-binding referendum. Any idea of secession is bitterly opposed by the governments in Baghdad, Turkey and Iran. The United States pressed Kurdish leaders to call off the poll.

Turkey, for example, has threatened a range of measures including cutting off oil exports from the region. 

“I will not give up on the unity of Iraq, that is my national and constitutional duty,” Abadi said, adding that any ban would still allow for humanitarian and other “urgent” flights.

Two airports operate in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, at regional capital Erbil and in second city Sulaimaniyah.

Abadi’s demand was rejected by KRG Transport Minister Mowlud Murad. He told a news conference in Erbil that keeping control of airports and maintaining direct international flights to the Kurdish capital was necessary for the fight against ISIS.

Murad expressed hope that the crisis could be resolved by Friday, saying it would damage Kurdistan’s economy.

The Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority sent a notice on Wednesday to foreign airlines telling them international flights to Erbil and Sulaimaniya in the Kurdish region would be suspended on Friday at 1500 GMT and only domestic flights allowed.