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

EXPATS CAN EXIT KURD REGION VIA IRAQ VISA-FREE: BAGHDAD

Foreign nationals in Iraq's northern Kurdish region will be allowed to return to their home countries via Baghdad visa-free, the Iraqi government announced Monday.

In a statement, Iraqi Interior Minister Qassem al-Araji said all foreign nationals residing in territories controlled by the Erbil-based Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) "can transit through Iraq to return to their home countries without obtaining prior visas or paying fines".

The move comes in the wake of last week's illegitimate referendum in which Iraqis in KRG-held areas -- and in a handful of areas disputed between Baghdad and Erbil -- voted on whether or not to declare formal independence from Iraq.

Many of the region's Turkmen, Arabs and Christians boycotted the poll, in which almost 93 percent of registered voters cast ballots in favor of independence, according to results announced by the KRG.

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

Ankara, meanwhile, has begun intensive military exercises along Turkey's border with the Kurdish region and has threatened to impose restrictions on main border crossings.

Last week's referendum had faced sharp opposition from most regional and international actors, many of whom had warned that the poll would only serve to distract from Iraq's ongoing fight against terrorism and further destabilize the already-volatile region.

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