TEHRAN: Iran blocked all flights to and from Iraq's Kurdistan on Sunday and launched large-scale military drills near Iraq's Kurdistan borders.
Closing off the borders by Tehran came at the request of Baghdad a day ahead of the independence referendum in the autonomous Kurdish region, Xinhua reported.
"At the request of the central government of Iraq, all flights from Iran to Sulaymaniyah and Erbil, as well as all flights through our airspace originating from the Kurdistan region, have been stopped," Keivan Khosravi, Spokesman Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) said.
Since Iran's political activities did not result in conclusion due to the Kurdistan's insistence on referendum, the SNSC decided in its urgent meeting on Sunday morning to seal its borders to the Kurdish flights, Khosravi said.
"The hasty decision of the Kurdistan authorities has both limited their role in Iraq's political scene and has opened the security of Iraq, the region and the Kurds to serious challenges," he added.
On Sunday, Turkey also closed its airspace to Iraqi Kurdistan flights.
Iraq's Kurdish regional President Masoud Barzani has reconfirmed holding the referendum on the independence of the Kurdish semi-autonomous region as scheduled on September 25.
"We have decided to hold referendum and we are going ahead whatever the price would be. We are not going to wait for unknown fate, and will not be subject to pressure and threats," Barzani said.
"We have reached the conclusion that independence will allow us not to repeat past tragedies," Barzani added.
He said the partnership with Baghdad had failed and they would not return to it.
Barzani also said Iraq was supposed to be a democratic civil state (after 2003), "not like what we see a theoretic, sectarian state."
"I urge the people of Kurdistan to go to the ballot boxes to express their views without any problems and to maintain security and order during this democratic experiment," Barzani said.
Meanwhile, Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) launched war games on Sunday near the borders with Iraq's Kurdistan region.
The military drills, part of annual events held in Iran to mark the beginning of the 1980-1988 war with Iraq, are centred in the Oshnavieh border region.
The Kurdistan Regional Government has resisted calls by the UN, the US, Britain, the Iraqi government, Iran and Turkey to delay the referendum who fear it could further destabilise the region.
The independence of Kurds is opposed by many countries because it would threaten the integrity of Iraq and it comes as the Iraqi forces are in fight against the Islamic State group.
In addition, the neighbouring countries of Turkey, Iran and Syria see that such a step would threaten their territorial integrity, as larger populations of Kurds live in those countries.