Expats can exit Kurd region via Iraq visa-free: Baghdad

Posted October 03, 2017

An Iraqi Kurdish man takes a picture for his wife, as she shows her ballot during the referendum on independence from Iraq in Irbil, Iraq, September 25, 2017.

The decision to carry out the exercises followed a high-level meeting of Iranian commanders where "the territorial integrity and unity of Iraq and the illegitimacy of the independence referendum in northern Iraq were stressed again", he said.

"Any person can leave the country via Baghdad without paying a fine or for an exit visa", Interior Minister Qassem al-Araji told journalists. Both countries see the referendum as having transformed the Kurdish aspiration for statehood in Iraq from problem to be managed to a mounting crisis on their borders. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has backed off the previously threatened use of force but has said that the government will take other measures to keep his country from breaking apart as the situation is set to worsen.

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The central government in Baghdad had ordered the halt to all foreign flights to and from the autonomous Kurdish region from 6:00 pm (1500 GMT) on Friday.

Longtime Iraqi Kurd leader Massud Barzani said the vote would not lead to an immediate declaration of independence and should instead open the door to negotiations.

It has flourished amid Iraq's civil war, but may struggle to maintain investment if it is blockaded economically.

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Last Friday, all overseas flights were canceled into and out of Erbil's global airport, while officials in Baghdad warned that land borders, too, could be subject to closure.

"We can not accept a referendum held in a climate that is created by burning down civil and land registry offices, forcing those, who did not obey them, to migrate through oppression, violence and illegal ways", President Erdoğan said.

National authorities in Baghdad vehemently opposed the referendum and responded by cutting the region's direct air links with the outside world. "We were supposed to go back to Brazil next Saturday but we rescheduled our flight because of the border closing", said Isidoro Junior, a 32-year-old volunteer for an NGO providing medical assistance to Iraqis displaced by the war against the Islamic State group.

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On Friday, the Iraqi Defense Ministry said it was taking over the control of its borders in the northern Kurdistan region in coordination with Iran and Turkey.