Baghdad has barred Turkish private planes from flying to Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, officials said Saturday, ahead of an energy conference that Ankara’s energy minister was expected to attend.
The move comes amid mounting tensions between Iraq and Turkey over a mooted pipeline that could begin pumping oil exports from Iraqi Kurdistan as early as next month, infuriating Baghdad, which insists all energy sales should be via the central government.
“Since yesterday (Friday), Baghdad has stopped private planes coming from Turkey,” Talar Mustafa, head of Arbil airport in the capital of the Kurdish region in northern Iraq, told AFP.
“Not normal flights, just private jets. It is an order from the ministry of transportation.”
Mustafa said airport authorities were not informed of the reasoning.
Two Turkish officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that a Turkish private plane flying to the Kurdish region was turned back late Friday.
The decision comes after a similar move by Baghdad a year ago, barring Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz’s plane from landing in Arbil, with Iraqi officials saying at the time that the flight had not obtained the necessary permits.
A four-day energy conference is due to open Sunday in the regional capital, which Yildiz was again expected to attend. Kurdish officials said the flight ban would not affect the event.
“We’re used to these petty, petulant actions from Baghdad,” a Kurdish regional government official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity. “They really should grow up.”
“It won’t affect the conference.”
Officials at Iraq’s civil aviation authority and transport ministry did not respond to multiple AFP requests for comment.
The latest move by Baghdad comes after Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani told reporters in Ankara that oil exports from the region to Turkey could start next month.
Kurdish authorities are seeking ways of selling their oil on international markets outside the control of Baghdad, but a lingering dispute with the central government has paralysed development of new oil and gas projects in the region.
The Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement on Saturday that during Barzani’s visit, Ankara and Arbil “reached agreement on some commercial contracts in the area of energy which are also compatible with the Iraqi constitution.”
“But the process has not yet been finalised. It is our desire and preference that the issue be tackled through a three-party format and finalised in a way which will serve our peoples’ common interests and welfare.”
In the past, Turkey refused official contacts with Iraqi Kurds, fearing the establishment of an independent Kurdish state could embolden its own domestic Kurdish population.
But as Turkey’s economy has boomed and its thirst for energy grown, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has moved to forge trade ties with Iraqi Kurds.
Ankara is however also keen on repairing ties with Baghdad, which have been strained for several years, and it has offered to mediate in the oil dispute between Kurdish authorities and Iraq’s central government.