Iran blocks Iraqi-Kurdistan flights on eve of controversial referendum

Tehran has imposed a ban on flights to and from Iraq’s Kurdish region and Iran in response to ‘the insistence’ of Kurdish leaders in going ahead with the independence referendum.

Iran said on Sunday that it has blocked all flights to and from Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous region at the request of Baghdad, just a day before a controversial referendum on Kurdish independence.

The referendum has been staunchly opposed by Iraq, Iran and several other key players in the region.

“At the request of the central government of Iraq, all flights from Iran to Sulaymaniyah and Erbil – as well as all flights through our airspace originating from the Kurdistan region – have been stopped,” said Supreme National Security Council Spokesman Keivan Khosravi, according to the state’s official official IRNA news agency.

Khosravi said that the move was made due to “the insistence” of Kurdish leaders in going ahead with the 25 September referendum.

It is not clear how long the ban will stay in place, however the vote is set to go ahead on Monday.

Among those opposing the vote is Tehran, which warned that independence for the Kurdish region would mean an end to all of border and security arrangements.

Earlier on Sunday, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards began military drills along the border with Iraqi-Kurdistan.

Iran and Turkey both fear the impact of the vote on their own restless and sizeable Kurdish populations.

The Baghdad government is also opposed to the referendum, which has been deemed “unconstitutional” by the Supreme Court.

The UN Security Council called this week for “dialogue and compromise” to end tensions.