Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Lowering of Iraqi flag in Kirkuk further strains Kurd, Arab and Turkoman relations

Security, Politics
(DPA) -- The lowering of the Iraqi flag at the municipal building in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk about two weeks ago stirred tensions between Kurds on the one hand and Arabs and Turkuman on the other. While Arabs and Turkuman insisted on flying the flag, even over houses and stores in Kirkuk, 250 kilometres from the Iraqi capital Baghdad, Kurds have called for it to be lowered at all public buildings in the city.
Leader of the Arab Obeid Tribe and Chairman of the Arab Consultative Council (ACC) in Kirkuk, Sheikh Abdul-Rahman Munshid al- Assy said that lowering the Iraqi flag from some public premises or not raising it at some parts of these buildings posed a risk to Kirkuk's national identity. "The flag is the base for national unity and co-existence among the different sects and religions," al-Assy said.
Turkuman Parliament Member for the Iraqi National Accord Front Fawzy Akram predicted serious consequences of what he described as "an illegal act," that was likely to "jeopardize the security situation in Kirkuk." For its part, the secular Turkuman National Party in Kirkuk issued a statement requesting an explanation, calling for the Iraqi flag to be flown over the municipality building, which symbolized the central authority.
"I would like to ask Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki whether lifting the flag is part of the four-way agreement," Akram wondered. The agreement was signed among the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the Islamic Daawa party and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) on August 16 to revive the political process in Iraq.
Meanwhile, Kirkuk Governor Abdul-Rahman Mostafa confirmed that the local administration did not attempt to remove the flag. The municipality had replaced it with a new one as the old one wore out due to the environmental factors. Mostafa further criticized the media for raising the issue in a way that "offended" the local administration in Kirkuk.
Oil-rich Kirkuk is the centre of northern Iraq's oil industry. It is an ethnically mixed city of Kurds, Arabs, Turkuman and Christians. To ensure Arab control of Kirkuk's oil fields, successive governments in Baghdad have implemented a policy of deliberate Arabization of the city. The forced population movements and ethnic registration changes continued under former executed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, making it likely that there was no longer an official Kurdish majority in the city.
After the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Kurds sought to return to their original city, which caused disputes among the three sects. Kurdish parties have been pushing to make Kirkuk part of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq. On February 5, the governmental Committee for the Normalization of Kirkuk decided to relocate Arabs to their places of origin in central and southern Iraq during the Saddam era and pay them compensation in return. Arabs in Kirkuk protested that decision considering it "a form of forced migration." A referendum on incorporating Kirkuk in the Kurdish autonomous region is scheduled for the end of 2007.

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