By Muhammed Boztepe
Turkey is lifting its nearly six-month ban on flights to the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, the Turkish prime minister announced on Friday.
"We had closed down our airspace following northern Iraq's referendum. We are opening our airspace as of today," Binali Yildirim told reporters in the capital Ankara.
Also on Friday, Turkish Airlines CEO Bilal Eksi announced on Twitter that the country’s flag carrier will start regular flights to the Iraqi city on March 26.
An international flight ban was imposed last Sept. 29 in response to an illegitimate poll on regional independence carried out by the Erbil-based Kurdish Regional Government (KRG).
Before the poll, most regional actors -- including Turkey -- had voiced opposition to the referendum, with many warning that it would further destabilize the already volatile region.
Yildirim also said commercial flights would be available from either Turkey or Europe to Erbil.
"However, this is only effective for Erbil. There will be no flights to Sulaymaniyah. Because, unfortunately the terror group's activities against our country [Turkey] continue intensely."
On the possibility of Turkey purchasing Patriot missile systems from the U.S., Yildirim said: "Turkey is a NATO member country. Thus, NATO's borders begin at Turkey's southern border... We welcome all kinds of joint efforts that would protect Turkey's southern border."
He added that Turkey's efforts in NATO integrated defense systems, including Patriots, will continue.