ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan24) – The Governor of the Kirkuk Province Najmaldin Karim on Sunday defended his order for official buildings to raise the flag of Kurdistan.
“The flag of Kurdistan was raised in Istanbul and Ankara. Why shouldn’t it be raised in Kirkuk,” asked Governor Karim during a press conference in his city where a Kurdistan24 reporter was present.
The Governor’s remarks appeared to be directed at Iraqi Turkmen politicians and the Turkish media.
The Kurdistan flag was raised for the first time at two Istanbul and Ankara airports during an official visit to Turkey by the Region’s President Masoud Barzani.
Karim issued an order on Thursday enforcing the use of the Kurdish language alongside Arabic at all official levels, and urged the displaying of the Kurdistan flag next to the Iraqi one.
The Kurdish-majority Kirkuk, with significant Arab and Turkmen minorities, remains contested between the Iraqi federal government in Baghdad and the Erbil-based Kurdistan Region.
“Kirkuk is a disputed area. I understand the sensitivity regarding the flag of Kurdistan. I hope the provincial council soon rules a decision in this regard,” said Karim.
The move led to strong condemnation by the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF) whose leader Arshad al-Salihi said the Governor “was playing with fire.”
On his Twitter page, Salihi further called Karim’s yet to be approved decision “illegal and unconstitutional.”
In Turkey, there was no comment from the government that previously for years pushed for an actively pro-Turkmen agenda to exclude any Kurdish input on Kirkuk.
But the pro-government Turkish media, including the state-funded Anadolu Agency and the Islamist Yeni Akit newspaper, took notice and carried Salihi’s statements.
In an interview with Anadolu, Salihi said there were “some sides who tried to put Kirkuk in a pool of blood.”
Karim, a member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), did not give any names but accused “some who insult the Peshmerga.”
“Kirkuk components are actually not against the flag of Kurdistan being next to that of Iraq. These components are not only made up of some who insult Peshmerga,” he continued.
“There are also many people asking why we are not honoring this flag under which Peshmerga defends Kirkuk,” Karim added.
The Governor was referring to the role Kurdish forces have been playing since the Islamic State’s assault on the city in 2014.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany