Pull down Iraqi Kurdish flag in Kirkuk or pay a heavy price: Erdoğan

Pull down Iraqi Kurdish flag in Kirkuk or pay a heavy price: Erdoğan

Pull down Iraqi Kurdish flag in Kirkuk or pay a heavy price: Erdoğan Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has called on the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to abandon its claims over the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, stressing that ties between Ankara and Arbil could be damaged if it insists on efforts to annex the multiethnic city.

The comments came on April 4, the same day as the Kirkuk provincial council voted to hold a referendum regarding the annexation of the city by the KRG. 

“I certainly find it wrong to raise a second flag next to the Iraqi national flag in Kirkuk. The owners of this flag should know better than to engage in separatism. I call on the Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government: Correct this mistake,” Erdoğan said at a rally in the Black Sea province of Zonguldak on April 4. 

His reaction followed a decision taken by Kurdish members of the Kirkuk city assembly who decided to raise a KRG flag next to the national Iraqi flag over the state building in Kirkuk as part of a possible effort to annex the city to KRG territory. 

“We have decided to hold the referendum in order to end the controversial territory status of Kirkuk,” council chairman Rebwar Fayq Talabani told a press conference on April 4.

The meeting was convened with 26 of its Kurdish members, as the nine Turkmen and six Arab members boycotted the meeting. 

“We are sending our referendum request to the Iraqi Central Government,” Talabani said. “The people of Kirkuk are exhausted.”

The move comes at a time when a potential referendum on the independence of the KRG is being discussed, a move that Turkey regards as wrong. 

Erdoğan urged the KRG to take down its flags in Kirkuk as the city belongs to Turkmens, Arabs and Kurds. “You should immediately remove your flags. Otherwise you will pay a heavy price,” he said. 

“[If you do not] you will ruin good ties between Ankara and Arbil. Remove your flag immediately and continue on your path with only the Iraqi flag,” Erdoğan added.

Members of the Kirkuk Provincial Council voted on March 28 in favor of raising the KRG flag over official buildings during a meeting that was boycotted by Turkmen and Arabs.

On April 1, the Iraqi parliament in a session voted against the decision of the Kirkuk Provincial Council.
One day after, Kirkuk Gov. Najmiddin Karim refused to apply the decision by Baghdad to pull down the flag of the KRG in Kirkuk. 

During his meeting with Iraqi Turkmen Front leader Ershad Salihi late April 3 in Ankara, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said Turkey would not accept any attempt to declare independence in northern Iraq and to incorporate Kirkuk into the KRG, vowing that they would continue to stand with Iraqi Turkmen groups. 

Yıldırım told Salihi that attempts on the referendum will not be approved by Ankara and that Turkey would stand with its kin in Iraq, according to state-run Anadolu Agency.

Kirkuk is officially outside of the KRG’s borders but was occupied by KRG fighters during the ISIL occupation of Mosul in June 2014.