Inauguration of Kirkuk airport "coincidence and surprise"

The arrival of a presidential plane carrying a government delegation to attend the opening of Kirkuk International Airport October 16. Media of Kirkuk Governorate Administration

By KirkukNow

Kirkuk International Airport was opened without media coverage and prior notification of the local officials, including the deputy governor, who described the opening of the airport as "a coincidence and a surprise."

At eight o'clock, Sunday, October 16, 2022, Kirkuk International Airport was officially opened in the presence of Nasser Al-Shibli, the Iraqi Minister of Transport, Hiyam Nemat, the Acting Minister of Finance, a Turkmen lady, and Rakan Al-Jibouri, the acting governor of Kirkuk and a number of administrative and security officials.

No media outlet was invited to attend the ceremony which was exclusively covered by governorate's media department, at a time when conflicting information was given to the media as leaked information showed rapid preparations for opening Saturday night, yet local officials stressed that the ceremony was postponed.

Ali Hammadi, the assistant governor of Kirkuk for technical affairs, told KirkukNow, "In fact, as the deputy governor, I learned today (Sunday, October 16) about the opening of Kirkuk Airport," in response to a question about the reason for choosing the date of October 16 to hold the opening ceremonies.

On October 16, 2017, the Peshmerga and some Kurdish parties withdrew from Kirkuk and other disputed areas and were replaced by forces affiliated with the federal government, after the relations between the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government KRG deteriorated due to the independence referendum by the Kurdish parties in Iraqi Kurdistan region IKR and the disputed territories including Kirkuk.

"The airport was scheduled to open two weeks ago, but it was postponed. Determining the opening day is the prerogative of the Protocol Department of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, even we did not interfere in the security measures because it is not within our powers," Hammadi said.

The airport which is located south of Kirkuk had been registered as in international airport since 1957, but in 2003 it was used by the US forces as a military base.

Towards the end of 2017, The Iraqi government decided to convert it to a civilian airport again and for this purpose it started a project to renovate and expand the airport to be opened in 2019.

On 30 June 2019, Kirkuk acting governor confirmed over 85% of the airport’s construction had been completed, which he described as "identical to Baghdad International Airport."

Three months after that statement, on 26 July 2019, the Federal Integrity Commission stressed in a report that "only 1% of the construction of Kirkuk International Airport completed, and it will take several years for the airport to be ready for opening.”

According to the Integrity Commission, the government has allocated an amount of $93.5 million in the airport project.

Video: Press conference of the acting governor of Kirkuk, Rakan al-Jubouri about the opening of Kirkuk International Airport on October 16.

The deputy governor of Kirkuk stressed the opening was "surprising" and what happened was "a coincidence."

And he revealed that "Baghdad opposed the presence of the media to cover the ceremony," without giving further information, a step provoked the media in Kirkuk which the acting governor described as helpful and constructive.

Al-Jibouri congratulated in a press conference held at the provincial office on Sunday the opening of the airport and described the project as important.

"Five years have passed since the operation of imposing the law," referring to the events of October 16, 2017.

Observers think the opening was deliberately was scheduled to October 16th to show it as achievement for current administration and a reminded to the Kurdish political parties on the fifth anniversary of ousting them, more progress achieved in the northern, oil-rich city.

The Kurds held a referendum for independence in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq KRI and the disputed territories on September 25, 2017, was supported by 92% of the voters; However, 21 days later, on October 16 of the same year, Iraqi forces ousted the Kurdish forces from Kirkuk and all the disputed territories.

He indicated that the Iraqi Prime Minister, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, was scheduled to attend the ceremony, but he was unable to attend due to the situation in Baghdad and the issue of forming the new government.

"We will hold other ceremonies on the occasion of the start of the first air flight," Al-Jibouri added.

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A government delegation from Baghdad attended the inauguration of Kirkuk International Airport on October 16. Media of Kirkuk Governorate

He also indicated that the Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority is scheduled to organize domestic flights soon as an encouragement to airlines, and with regard to appointing cadres for the airport, he made it clear that the administration will seek to observe equality between the components of Kirkuk.

According to (KirkukNow) follow-ups, the government delegation coming from Baghdad landed today on a plane at Kirkuk International Airport, and despite the opening of the airport, the next few days will not witness the organization of flights from the airport.

"The airport project is 100% complete, and next week an Iraqi Airways plane will arrive in Kirkuk to transport passengers to Baghdad," Hammadi said, expecting the first official flight to depart from the airport within 10 days.

The Civil Aviation Authority in Iraq published in a statement the opening of Kirkuk International Airport, without indicating the date of the start of flights from the airport.

"It is true that the date of October 16 carries with it some sensitivity to the Kurds, but we must not forget that Kirkuk is witnessing today a state of stability and the issue of the airport is above all other accounts," Hammadi added.

The main board of the airport is written in Arabic and English only, while according to Article 4 of the Iraqi Constitution and Law of Official Languages ​​in Iraq No. 7 of 2014, Arabic and Kurdish are the two official languages ​​in Iraq, they must be adopted in all official documents.

The northern, oil-rich province of Kirkuk, located 238 kilometers north of Baghdad, is an ethnically mixed province for 1.7 million Aras, Kurds, and Turkmens. It has long been at the center of disputes between Baghdad and Erbil.

Currently, the Iraqi army, local and federal police, Brigade 61 of Special Forces along with Shiite paramilitary of Popular Mobilization Forces PMF, are under Kirkuk joint operations’ command, an umbrella for the security forces running the security of Kirkuk province. 

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