After the September 2017 independence referendum, Prime Minister Haidar Abadi imposed a series of sanctions upon the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Six months later, the two sides are beginning to reconcile. That led to the lifting of a flight ban into the two Kurdish international airports and the promise to pay all the region’s public employees.
On March 6, PM Abadi said he would re-open Kurdistan’s airports before Nowruz. That was after the central and regional governments agreed to have the Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority manage the airports in conjunction with the KRG, and the airport officials to be under the Interior Ministry. Baghdad had already allowed flights to Saudi Arabia for the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. March 13, Abadi finally issued the decree on flights, and the first ones landed in Irbil on March 18. How things like visas, etc. will work at the airport is yet to be explained as Baghdad and Irbil had different procedures.
Another act of reconciliation was Abadi saying he would pay all KRG salaries including the Peshmerga. 317 billion dinars, $267 million was sent to the Kurdish Finance Ministry. Irbil claims it needs $759.4 million however to take care of all its workers. If another installment doesn’t arrive during the month, Baghdad may only be paying the Health and Education Ministries, which have been audited by the central authorities and Abadi has said he would release money for during the month. There was already some confusion on this matter when at the end of February, the central government sent $210 million to the KRG. Initially it was reported that the funds were for Health and Education, but it was actually for branches of the Central Bank. As for the Peshmerga, they are included in the 2018 budget, which was just passed this month. The central and regional governments have argued over the budget for years. That started when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki objected to the KRG’s independent oil policy, and he cut off payments. Since then there have been a number of deals to try to exchange Kurdish oil exports for a portion of the budget, but those have always broken down. Having the central authorities pay the KRG civil servants and Peshmerga would be a major step towards integrating the region back into the federal system since it has been moving away for years now. Ironically, this was the exact opposite outcome of the referendum many hoped for, and highlighted how badly the Kurdish leadership miscalculated that decision.
Baghdad Post, “Abadi directs to officially open Kurdistan’s airports,” 3/15/18
- “Baghdad approves paying halted salaries to Kurdistan’s employees,” 3/18/18
Al Forat, “Information on the 2018 budget in dollars,” 3/3/18
Jalabi, Raya, Rasheed, Ahmed, “Iraqi PM says will lift ban on international flights to Kurdistan Region,” Reuters, 3/13/18
Al Mada, “Baghdad and Irbil agree to transfer oil files and Fishkhabour after the elections,” 3/11/18
Al Monitor, “Iraqi Kurdistan’s not so friendly skies opening again soon,” 3/11/18
NRT, “Abadi To Lift Ban On Kurdistan Region’s Airports This Week: Sources,” 3/12/18
Rudaw, “Baghdad may lift flight ban, pay audited salaries before Newroz: Abadi,” 3/6/18
- “Baghdad sends Erbil $210m, but KRG doesn’t know what it’s for – spokesman,” 2/1/18
- “Doctors strike against KRG austerity, demand full salaries,” 3/18/18
- “First international flight lands at Erbil airport from Saudi after ban lifted,” 3/18/18
- “Iraq sends $20 million to Kurdistan for salaries,” 1/29/18
- “KRG health, education workers will be paid in ‘next two days’: Iraqi gov’t,” 3/18/18
- “Kurdistan’s airports reopen to international flights,” 3/14/18