Passengers walk outside Erbil international airport, in the capital of Iraq's autonomous northern Kurdish region, on Feb 27, 2018. (SAFIN HAMED / AFP)
BAGHDAD - Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a decree on Tuesday he would lift a ban on international air traffic to the Kurdistan region and flights could resume within one week.
Kurdish authorities have agreed that the airports should come under federal control and report to Baghdad's interior ministry
International flights to and from the semi-autonomous region's two main airports in Erbil and Sulaimaniyah were halted on Sept 29 as part of sanctions imposed on the Kurds after they held an independence referendum four days earlier in defiance of Baghdad and voted overwhelmingly in favor of separation.
Kurdish authorities have agreed that the airports should come under federal control and report to Baghdad's interior ministry, the decree said.
"The opening of Kurdish airports to international flights is an important step," Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani told a news conference according to Kurdish Rudaw TV. "We hope more significant steps will be taken."
Only domestic flights have been allowed through the region's airports, with foreign airlines suspending their routes in accordance with an order from the central government.
This hit the Kurdistan region's economy, with a decrease in tourism and travel affecting local businesses.
Abadi's decree announced the creation of a new Directorate for Special Protection for Kurdistan's airports "under the command and control of the Federal Ministry of the Interior".
Federal customs authorities will supervise the "introduction, production and handling of materials and equipment through the two airports", the decree said.
It also specified that a biometric system used in Kurdistan's airports will be linked with the federal system.
It was not immediately clear whether the region would maintain its independent visa system. The deputy spokesman for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) said talks were ongoing on the issue.