Turkey slams Kurdish decision to fly KRG flag in Kirkuk

Turkey slams Kurdish decision to fly KRG flag in Kirkuk

Turkey slams Kurdish decision to fly KRG flag in Kirkuk

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Turkey on March 29 voiced its opposition to a vote in the disputed oil-rich Iraqi city of Kirkuk to fly the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) flag over government buildings, warning against “unilateral steps.”

Provincial councilors in Kirkuk province voted March 28 to fly the regional flag.

Turkey said it opposed flying the flag because it does not want to encourage any change in the composition of Kirkuk, which is also home to Turkmens.

“We don’t find correct the vote held by the regional administration”, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told the state-run TRT television.

“First of all it would not be correct to change that region’s ethnic composition,” he said, adding that “faits accomplis” or “unilateral steps” would bring no benefit.

“We are supporting Iraq’s and Syria’s territorial integrity,” the foreign minister said.

Turkish main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy leader Veli Ağaba said KRG leader Masoud Barzani was benefiting from the referendum process in Turkey as the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) had not put pressure on him during the campaigning process. 

“Barzani is joining the ‘yes’ campaign here,” he said in a written statement. “As he knows that the AKP and the government in Turkey cannot raise their voice against him, Barzani is waving their flag in Kirkuk, a Turkmen city.” 

It was only the Turkish Foreign Ministry that made a statement on the issue, Ağbaba said. “Barzani would not dare to hang that flag if he knew that the Turkish Republic would raise its voice.” 

Former Turkish President Abdullah Gül said in a tweet on March 28 that waving the KRG and Iraqi flags together in Kirkuk would “threaten the national unity and togetherness of Turkmens, Kurds and Arabs in the city.” 

“Iraq, weary of conflicts and pain, should not let new problems emerge,” Gül said in a message in Turkish and Arabic, adding that this “one-sided decision against the Iraqi constitution” should be reversed.

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

Kirkuk is at the center of a long-running dispute over northern territory that the KRG authorities want to incorporate into their autonomous region, a move the federal government in Baghdad opposes.

Kirkuk is home to various religious and ethnic communities, some of which -- notably Arabs and Turkmen -- do not want to see the province under permanent Kurdish control.