Lebanon's flagship carrier airline said its last flights to and from Irbil, the capital in Iraq's Kurdish region, will be Friday in compliance with Iraqi civil aviation authorities, the company's chairman said Wednesday.
Mohamad El-Hout, chairman of Middle East Airlines, said the decision came after Iraqi authorities decided to ban all flights from and to Irbil and Sulaimaniyah, the capital and second city of the Kurdish region in Iraq.
"We are committed to implement," el-Hout said.
The decision comes after the Kurdish region claimed victory in an independence referendum that has been vehemently rejected by Baghdad and Iraq's other neighbors.
Iraq's prime minister had ordered the Kurdish region to hand over control of its airports to federal authorities or face a flight ban.
From Irbil, the transport minister for Iraq's Kurdish region said Wednesday the region's international airports have not violated any laws that would warrant their closure.
Mawlood Bawa Murad said his ministry is ready to negotiate with Baghdad "if they want to implement the law and show that Iraq has one air space," he said at a news conference.
The threatened flight ban would affect "one way or another, the military aviation that operates from Irbil international airport," Murad said. "And Irbil international has become a launching pad for coalition air forces in the fight against Daesh."
The Lebanese airline has one flight per day to Irbil. It has no flights to Sulaimaniyah.
"This will affect the airline and contacts there," el-Hout said in a telephone interview. He said Lebanese and other travelers seeking to come to Beirut can still travel to Baghdad or Basra because domestic flights continue operating.
An official at the airline in the airport said all flights coming from Irbil will also not be allowed to land in Beirut's International airport. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.