ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – Sulaimani International Airport will make its first international flight since September on Wednesday, announced the airport's press office, but travel will be limited to religious pilgrims going to Saudi Arabia.
In February, Baghdad agreed to lift the international flight ban now in place for airports in the Kurdistan Region for Muslim pilgrims traveling to the holy city of Mecca to perform the religious practice of Umrah, the non-mandatory lesser pilgrimage made by Muslims to Mecca. Unlike the Hajj, Umrah may be performed at any time of the year.
In Tuesday's statement, the press office added that no other decisions had been made by the Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority (ICAA) regarding when the blockade will be lifted for other international flights.
Iraq's federal government imposed the international flight ban on Sep. 29 as retaliation for the Kurdistan Region’s Sept. 25 independence referendum, which saw 93 percent of the population voting for secession from Iraq.
Since then, Baghdad has extended the ban twice, most recently on Feb. 26, prolonging the restriction on international travel until May 31.
Kurdish officials have repeatedly stated that the ban has severely damaged the economy of the Kurdistan Region, forcing many companies to close offices and lay off staff.
Annually, tens of thousands of people in the Kurdistan Region perform Umrah, but the number has decreased substantially over the past few years, according to data released by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
Editing by John J. Catherine