Iraqi ban on flights to Kurdish capital Irbil begins Friday




IRBIL, Iraq — Iraq’s military was preparing to take control of the international borders of the northern Kurdish region as a flight ban halted all international flights from servicing the territory’s airports on Friday as the central government in Baghdad stepped up moves to isolate the Kurds following their vote on independence earlier this week.

Iraqi troops now in Turkey and Iran would start today to enforce control over the border crossings out of the Kurdish region, Iraqi officials told The Associated Press. They will not enter the Kurdish region, but instead Iraqi customs administrators backed by the troops will set up control points just outside the Kurdish border stations, the officials said.

The step will be the first movement of troops — outside of joint military exercises held by Turkey, Iran and Iraq — in response to this week’s referendum in which Kurds voted by more than 90 percent to back independence from Iraq for their self-rule zone and areas they have captured the past year.

The escalation feeds worries in the United States, a close ally of both the Kurds and Baghdad, that the referendum vote could lead to violence, setting off an unpredictable chain of events.

Two U.S. officials said Washington was concerned about possible operations involving Iraqi, Iranian or Turkish forces, or a combination. The U.S. has strongly been advising against any military incursion into the Kurdish region, and believes none of the players will do so, according the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

The nonbinding referendum — in which the Kurds voted overwhelmingly in favor of independence from Iraq — will not immediately result in independence. But Kurdish leaders have said they will use it to press for negotiations on eventually forming their own state.