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Iraq, Turkey butt heads, block flights over debt dispute

From Mohammed Tawfeeq and Ivan Watson, CNN
November 21, 2011 -- Updated 0129 GMT (0929 HKT)
Turkish Airlines is a key link for commercial travel in and out of Iraq, but Iraq has banned Turkish flights over an economic dispute.
Turkish Airlines is a key link for commercial travel in and out of Iraq, but Iraq has banned Turkish flights over an economic dispute.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Iraq claims Turkey has banned Iraqi flights from landing
  • Turkey denies making such a decision
  • The dispute is over money owed by an Iraqi oil company to Turkey

(CNN) -- Iraq has banned all Turkish flights from landing in the country in response to a dispute over millions of dollars owed by an Iraqi government oil company to Turkey.

Iraqi transportation ministry spokesman Karim al-Nuri said the decision to block Turkish planes from Iraq, including the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, was in response to a similar ban in Turkey against Iraqi flights. However, a Turkish government official denied that Ankara blocked Iraqi planes.

The official did say that Turkey warned that if Iraq's State Oil Marketing Organization (SOMO) does not pay the $3 million owed to his country, then the country would ban Iraqi aircraft.

"They owe the money and they wish to freeze Turkish flights ... Talks are ongoing. But the way out is for SOMO to pay its debts," the Turkish official said.

Al-Nuri said Baghdad did not make "a political decision."

"Iraq will reverse its decision if Turkey reverses its decision, too," al-Nuri said.

After years of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, Turkey's flagship carrier Turkish Airlines was one of the first international companies to begin direct flights to Baghdad. Increasingly, Turkey has grown as a major international gateway for commerce and travel to and from its Iraqi neighbor.

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