TAL AFAR,Iraq – Iraqi troops will take over security at Baghdad Airport (search), replacing a British company that stopped working Friday in a pay dispute with the government, a top Iraqi official said.
"This issue is related to Iraq's sovereignty, and nobody is authorized to close the airport," acting Transportation Minister Esmat Amer told The Associated Press.
He said the Cabinet approved the dispatch of Interior Ministry troops to take over from the London-based Global Strategies Group (search), which had provided security at the sprawling airport since last year.
Amr said the government had been trying since the first of the year to renegotiate a now-lapsed $4.5 million monthly contract that Global had signed with the defunct U.S. Coalition Provision Authority (search). The CPA handed sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government in June 2004.
Earlier Friday, Global said it suspended operations because the Ministry of Transportation, which owns the airport, was six months behind in payments. All flights in and out of the capital were suspended, it said.
Giles Morgan, a spokesman for the company, said the ministry "is not currently paying the company for the services it has rendered."
"We're in continuing dialogue and we're hoping it'll be resolved as soon as possible," Morgan said.
The company said its workers would continue securing the facility but that other operations were suspended.
Shortly after that, Amer said Iraqi forces would take over later Friday and reopen the airport, one of Iraq's few reliable links to the outside world, as quickly as possible. He confirmed that Global had not been paid since contract negotiations resume about the first of the year.
Airport officials say about 15 civilian flights use the airport daily for both domestic and international travel. The flights are operated by Iraqi Airways (search), Royal Jordanian Airlines (search) and three companies operating out of the United Arab Emirates — Jobotier, Ishtar and Tigris airlines.
There is service between Baghdad (search) and Basra (search), Sulaimaniya and Irbil in Iraq as well as Jordan, Syria and the UAE.
In June, Global suspended airport operations for 48 hours for the same reason.
The company also manages security at the heavily fortified Green Zone in central Baghdad — home to Iraqi government offices, parliament, and the U.S. Embassy. It has about 1,100 employees in Iraq — mainly former Nepalese and Fijian soldiers. Five hundred Global workers staff the airport.