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Iraqi forces to take control of Kurdish regional borders

  • A Kurdish woman holds a banner with 'independence' written on it to protest against the flight ban issued by the Iraq federal government outside the Irbil International Airport in Iraq, Friday, Sept. 29, 2017. Many travelers boarded the last flights out of the cities of Irbil and Sulaymaniyah as an Iraqi government order to halt all international flights in Kurdish territory was set to kick in on Friday. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen) Bram Janssen

  • Protestors stand outside the Irbil International Airport to oppose the flight ban issued by the Iraq federal government on Friday. AP

  • Kurdish women hold balloons to protest against the flight ban issued by the Iraq federal government outside the Irbil International Airport in Iraq, Friday, Sept. 29, 2017. Many travelers boarded the last flights out of the cities of Irbil and Sulaymaniyah as an Iraqi government order to halt all international flights in Kurdish territory was set to kick in on Friday. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen) Bram Janssen

  • A Kurdish man stands outside the Irbil International Airport to protest against the flight ban issued by the Iraq federal government, Friday, Sept. 29, 2017. Many travelers boarded the last flights out of the cities of Irbil and Sulaymaniyah as an Iraqi government order to halt all international flights in Kurdish territory was set to kick in on Friday. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen) Bram Janssen

  • Hours ahead of a flight ban threatened by the central government, hundreds of passengers file through Irbil international airport Friday, September 29, 2017. The ban on all international flights servicing airports in the Kurdish region follows a controversial Kurdish independence referendum held this week that appears to be leaving the small land-locked Kurdish region increasingly isolated. (AP Photo/Susannah George) Susannah George

  • Travelers line up to check in at the Irbil International Airport, in Iraq, Friday, Sept. 29, 2017. Many travelers boarded the last flights out of the cities of Irbil and Sulaymaniyah as an Iraqi government order to halt all international flights in Kurdish territory was set to kick in on Friday. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen) Bram Janssen

  • Hours ahead of a flight ban threatened by the central government, passengers file through Irbil international airport Friday, September 29, 2017. The ban on all international flights servicing airports in the Kurdish region follows a controversial Kurdish independence referendum held this week that appears to be leaving the small land-locked Kurdish region increasingly isolated. (AP Photo/Susannah George) Susannah George

  • Travelers wait outside the Irbil International Airport in Iraq Friday, Sept. 29, 2017. Many travelers boarded the last flights out of the cities of Irbil and Sulaymaniyah as an Iraqi government order to halt all international flights in Kurdish territory was set to kick in on Friday. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen) Bram Janssen

  • Travelers queue to check in at the Irbil International Airport, in Iraq, Friday, Sept. 29, 2017. Many travelers boarded the last flights out of the cities of Irbil and Sulaymaniyah as an Iraqi government order to halt all international flights in Kurdish territory was set to kick in on Friday. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen) Bram Janssen

  • A traveler checks his phone in front of a Kurdish airline ticket office at the Irbil International Airport in Iraq Friday, Sept. 29, 2017. Many travelers boarded the last flights out of the cities of Irbil and Sulaymaniyah as an Iraqi government order to halt all international flights in Kurdish territory was set to kick in on Friday. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen) Bram Janssen



Associated Press
Friday, September 29, 2017

Iraq’s military was preparing to take control of the international borders of the northern Kurdish region as a flight ban halted all international flights from servicing the territory’s airports on Friday as the central government in Baghdad stepped up moves to isolate the Kurds following their vote on independence earlier this week.

Iraqi troops now in Turkey and Iran would start on Saturday morning to enforce control over the border crossings out of the Kurdish region, Iraqi officials told the Associated Press. They will not enter the Kurdish region, but instead Iraqi customs administrators backed by the troops will set up control points just outside the Kurdish border stations, the officials said.

The step will be the first movement of troops – outside of joint military exercises held by Turkey, Iran and Iraq – in response to this week’s referendum in which Kurds voted by more than 90 percent to back independence from Iraq for their self-rule zone and other areas they have captured the past year.

The escalation feeds worries in the United States, a close ally of both the Kurds and Baghdad, that the referendum vote could lead to violence, setting off an unpredictable chain of events.

Two U.S. officials said Washington was concerned about possible operations involving Iraqi, Iranian or Turkish forces, or a combination thereof. Behind the scenes, the United States has strongly been advising against any military incursion into the Kurdish region, and believes none of the players will do so, according the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

The nonbinding referendum – in which the Kurds voted overwhelmingly in favor of independence from Iraq – will not immediately result in independence. But Kurdish leaders have said they will use it to press for negotiations on eventually forming their own state.

That has set off alarm bells in Baghdad, where the government has said it is determined to prevent a break-up of the country, and in Iraq’s neighbors, Iran and Turkey, which fear the vote will fuel similar ambitions among their own significant Kurdish populations.

So they have moved to isolate the region. Iran on Friday announced a ban on oil imports and exports with the Iraqi Kurdish region, the state news agency announced.

At Irbil International airport, hundreds of passengers lined up for flights out of the Kurdish region in the hours before the central government’s flight ban took effect Friday evening. Baghdad had demanded the region hand over the airport to its authority or else face a ban.

Talar Saleh, the general director of Irbil International Airport, says Kurdish authorities had attempted to meet with officials from the central government to comply with the demand. But “so far, up to this moment, there is no reply from Baghdad,” she said at a press conference held at the airport.