The Iraqi prime minister on Wednesday called on the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan to cancel its recent independence referendum and start a dialogue based on the Iraqi constitution.
Speaking at an Iraqi parliament session on Wednesday, Haider al-Abadi demanded that Kurdistan cancel vote-counting for Monday's referendum and all its consequences and instead initiate an open dialogue based on the constitution.
"The relationship with Kurdistan is ruled by the constitution. We will never discuss the results of the referendum. We will impose the rule of Iraq in all parts of the region by the power of the constitution," he said.
"We warned the region's authorities of the consequences of the crisis that may result from the referendum. We also informed their government that we will take measures in the case they insist on holding it," he continued.
However, the prime minister assured that "we will defend Kurdish citizens, as we will defend Turkmens, Christians and Arabs inside and outside the region," stressing that "any violation against a Kurdish citizen is a violation against all of us."
He also demanded the return of all areas "taken over by the region," referring to zones disputed by the autonomous region and the Iraqi federal government and currently controlled by the Kurdish Peshmerga forces.
On Monday, Iraqi Kurds held a non-binding referendum on independence, defying the wishes of the governments of Iraq, Turkey and Iran.
The Iraqi government criticized the Kurdish leaders for going ahead with the vote despite widespread international opposition, not only from neighboring countries, but from the United States and several European nations as well.
On Tuesday, Iraq gave the leaders of Iraqi Kurdistan 72 hours to hand over control of airports in the autonomous region or face a ban on international flights.
Lebanese Middle East Airlines and Egyptian airline EgyptAir on Wednesday announced the suspension of flights to Erbil starting from Friday following the decision.
"The company is committed to implementing the decision of the Iraqi authorities, and it will secure the return of the Lebanese from Erbil through the airports in Basra, Baghdad and Najaf and will increase the number of flights from these airports," the president of MEA, Mohamed al-Hout, told the Lebanese official news agency.
EgyptAir said in a statement that it took that decision at the request of the Iraqi civil aviation authorities.