Kurdish flag in Kirkuk is permanent, governor of Kirkuk says

Governor of Kirkuk Najmettin Kerim and HDP leader Demirtas

KIRKUK — Kirkuk Governor Najmaldin Karim said in a defiant message that the local government would not commit to the Iraqi parliament’s Saturday vote that called for raising only the Iraqi flag in the multi-ethnic city.

“I assure you that this flag [of Kurdistan] would always fly high,” Karim told reporters as he received a number of Kurdish veteran Peshmerga fighters who paid a visit to Kirkuk to show their support for raising the Kurdistan flag in what the Kurds call the Kurdish Jerusalem, a long-held sentiment that the province is in the heart of the Iraqi Kurdistan.

Karim added that the show of support from the veteran Peshmerga reaffirms the Kurdish unity that surfaced a day before in Baghdad when all the Kurdish parties, despite their political differences, showed “a united position” against the motion tabled by Iraqi members of the parliament.

The Iraqi parliament voted on Saturday that only the national flag should fly in Kirkuk.

The Kirkuk Provincial Council voted last week in a majority vote to raise the Kurdistan flag over state buildings, with some Arab and Turkmen representative boycotting the vote citing fears that this may be a move from the Kurdish parties to assert their identity in the multi-ethnic city.

However, that vote was vetoed by most Arab and Turkmen members of the Kirkuk Provincial Council.

Karim added that they would not abide by the decision from the Iraqi parliament and that they would only stand with the position of the Kirkuk Council vote that is “constitutional”.

Governor Karim, and the acting head of the Council, Rebwar Talabani, both have repeatedly said that the Kurdistan flag does not represent Kurds only, but all the components of Kurdistan and the province.

Talabani said that the Kurdistan flag, in reference to the Kurdish Peshmerga, provided shelter for some two million Sunni Arabs when they fled the IS group since 2014 towards the safer areas in Kurdistan Region.

Meanwhile, the leaders of the two main Kurdish parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led by Massoud Barzani, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) are currently holding a high-level meeting in Erbil on a range of issues, with Kirkuk said to be top of the agenda.

Barzani earlier welcomed the decision to raise the Kurdistan flag in Kirkuk, calling it “normal and legal”. While Kosrat Rasul, the PUK deputy-secretary-general not only hailed flying the Kurdistan flag in Kirkuk, but also called it the Jerusalem of Kurdistan, referring to an old sentiment that Kirkuk is a Kurdish city.

Rasul said that the decades-long struggle of the Kurdish Peshmerga was “to raise the sacred flag of Kurdistan over every inch of our country, in particular in the head of Kurdistan, the Jerusalem city of Kirkuk.”

Both Barzani and Rasul are taking part in today’s meeting.

Sirwan Zahawi, a legal expert on constitutional matters, told Rudaw on Saturday that the vote from the Iraqi parliament is not binding, adding that Kirkuk did not need to pass a vote in the Council because the local government, in accordance with the current Iraqi constitution and laws already had the powers to raise the Kurdistan flag.

“Not raising the Kurdistan flag is unconstitutional,” Zahawi argued as he explained that the province falls into what is called the disputed areas, as defined by article 140 of the Iraqi constitution, and by definition, both Baghdad and Erbil has the same claim in the province on an equal basis.

Article 140 was put into the Iraqi constitution after the removal of the Baath party in Iraq. It concerns areas claimed by both Erbil and Baghdad, such as Kirkuk and some areas in Nineveh.

The constitution requires that Iraqis displaced by “Arabization” be compensated and moved back to their original areas, a process that has been resisted by many Arabs who have lived in disputed areas for decades. Kurds see Article 140 as a way to remedy the injustices of “Arabization” policies and strengthen the Kurdistan Region.

The United Nations has also warned that the decision to fly the Kurdish flag over the citadel in Kirkuk could inflame tensions.

Turkey on Wednesday voiced its opposition to a vote in Kirkuk to fly the Kurdish flag over government buildings, warning against “unilateral steps”.

Hundreds of Turkmen people waving Turkmen and Iraqi flags took to the streets on Wednesday in Kirkuk to protest against the vote by the Kirkuk local government to raise the flag of used by Iraqi Kurdistan Region over state buildings.

Iraqi Vice President Osama al-Nujaifi condemned last Tuesday the decision by local authorities in Kirkuk to raise the Kurdish flag in Kirkuk as “a breach of national unity”.

The oil rich ethnically-mixed Kirkuk city in Iraq’s north is claimed by both Iraq’s central government and the country’s Kurdish region.

The Kurds are seeking to integrate Kirkuk province into the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region claiming it to be historically a Kurdish city, but Iraq’s central government opposes this. The population is a mix of Kurds, Arabs, Christians and Turkmen.

The Arabs and Turkmen do not want to see the province under permanent Kurdish control.

Kurdish forces take full control of Kirkuk after the Islamic State insurgency in Iraq in 2014 and the withdrawal of Iraqi army form the province and some other northern region of the state, including second-biggest city of Mosul.