Kirkuk provincial council in Iraq flies Kurdish flag on buildings

Posted Apr 5, 2017 by Ken Hanly
The province of Kirkuk in Iraq has just voted for a referendum to determine if the region will join the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) or remain part of the Baghdad government.
A flag of the autonomous Kurdistan region flies as Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters take position to...
A flag of the autonomous Kurdistan region flies as Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters take position to monitor the area from their front line post in Bashiqa, on August 16, 2014
Ahmad Al-Rubaye, AFP
The vote was held by members of the Kirkuk provincial council on April 4. The move is seen as likely to increase tensions between the KRG and many in the region. The referendum decision comes just a week after the council voted in favor of flying the Kurdish flag on municipal buildings in the city of Kirkuk. The Turkmen minority in the city protested the flag-raising. Arab members of the provincial council boycotted the vote on the referendum. Najmaldin Karim, Kirkuk's governor, said: "If there is a referendum for Kurdistan, that should include Kirkuk as well. We have a lot of grievances with Baghdad. It’s a strong, centralized and inefficient, incompetent administration. Baghdad is very controlling, and the constitution says Iraq should be federal." Kurds have long claimed Kirkuk and the huge oil reserves in the area and after the Iraqi army retreated, Kurdish peshmerga ended up in control of the area.
There is supposed to be a referendum on the status of Kirkuk. Karim believes such a vote should be included on any referendum vote on independence for Kurdistan. As of now, the KRG is autonomous within the Iraqi government based in Baghdad. Many observers in Baghdad see the referendum vote and the flag flying as unilateral moves designed to annex Kirkuk with its oil wealth to the KRG. On Saturday, the Iraqi parliament voted to repeal the decision to fly the KRG flag over municipal buildings in Kirkuk.
Recep Erdogan, Turkish President, warned the council that raising the KRG over government buildings could lead to strained relations with Turkey. Erdogan wants to be seen as a protector of the Turkmen minority in the area. He may also be concerned about the Kurds gaining any more territory in the area. Iran also complained about the Kurdish action calling it unconstitutional. Iran also has areas dominated by Kurds.
The Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi asked that the Kurdish flags be taken down and to work on Iraqi unity. The acting head of the council claims that they have the constitutional right to fly the flag because the federal government has not yet followed through with Article 140 of the Iraq constitution that would have a referendum settle disputed areas such as Kirkuk.
Al-Abadi told a Kurdish website: "As you know, for a time now there has been talk that Iraq will split into three regions of Kurds, Shias and Sunnis. But that is totally objectionable. We are serious about Iraq’s territorial integrity."
Turkish President Erdogan said: "We don't agree with the claim 'Kirkuk is for the Kurds' at all. Kirkuk is for the Turkmen, Arabs and Kurds, if they are there. Do not enter into a claim it's yours or the price will be heavy. You will harm dialogue with Turkey. Bring that flag down immediately, "