Turkey to help its citizens leave Iraqi Kurdish region
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said Friday that the government would help Turkish citizens to leave northern Iraq's Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) as the flights to the region will be suspended as of Friday evening.
"We will use every means available to help our citizens who want to return to Turkey," Çavuşoğlu told a news conference with his Colombian counterpart Maria Angela Holguin in Istanbul.
The minister recalled that the government had issued travel warnings for Turkish citizens, and updated these warnings according to the latest developments.
"We may send planes with special permission [to evacuate the citizens] in the coming period. The decision [whether to stay or leave] of our citizens is important," Çavuşoğlu added.
On Tuesday night, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi gave KRG three days to hand over control of the airports under its control to avoid an air embargo.
Following Abadi's statement, Turkey's Consulate in Erbil announced on Wednesday that flights from Turkey to northern Iraq would be suspended as of Friday.
"In this case, it will not be possible for Turkish Airlines, AtlasGlobal, or Pegasus [Airlines] to carry out mutual flights from our country to Erbil or Sulaymaniya as of Sept. 29," the consulate said.
The moves come amid mounting tension between Baghdad and northern Iraq's Kurdish region over the latter's decision to hold an illegitimate referendum on regional independence.
Monday's illegitimate referendum saw Iraqis in Kurdish Regional Government-controlled areas -- and in a handful of territories disputed between Erbil and Baghdad, including ethnically mixed Kirkuk and Mosul -- vote on whether or not to declare independence from Iraq's central government.
Official preliminary results revealed that 93 percent of voters backed Kurdish independence, although the vote was widely criticized by the international community.
Along with Baghdad, Turkey, the U.S., Iran, and the UN had spoken out against the illegitimate poll, warning it would distract from the ongoing fight against Daesh and further destabilize the region.