ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Kirkuk Province’s acting governor on Tuesday mobilized security forces to the streets of its main city to disperse Kurds celebrating a political party’s decision to raise the Kurdistan flag over their office buildings along with the Iraqi one.
Prior to the security forces dispersing crowds, people in Kirkuk city were posting videos and pictures showing the Kurdistan flag flying over multiple headquarters and offices of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), a seeming reversal in party policy since October 2017.
Baghdad-appointed Governor Rakan al-Jabouri and the Turkmen Front both issued statements condemning the PUK’s action, a move which has been in effect banned and was met with expedient countermeasures by local authorities.
The province is disputed between the federal Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), the status of which, as demanded by the national constitution, was to be settled by 2007. This has been delayed due to ongoing differences between the two administrations and instability in the country.
The Kurdistan Region and Kurds living in disputed territories saw the question as settled after a majority, including in Kirkuk, voted in favor of secession from Iraq in the region’s historic bid for independence in Sep. 2017.
Shortly after, on Oct. 16, Iraqi security forces along with Hashd al-Shaabi militias overran the contested areas and forced a retreat by the Kurdish Peshmerga. Baghdad installed Jabouri and ousted the popular Kurdish Governor, Najmaldin Karim, who enjoyed enormous support across ethnic and religious groups in Kirkuk.
The acting governor has since enacted policies that are seen as a means to weaken the Kurdish position in the city. His rule is seen by many as oppressive and military in nature. This includes a firm ban on the Kurdistan flag.
Other entities within the local administration have previously voiced criticism over raising the flag over public institutions, with the Turkmen making it a matter of national concern in early 2017 by filing a complaint with the Iraqi Supreme Court to assess the legality or constitutionality of such an act.
This came after the province’s governing council – which is majority Kurd – ruled to hoist the Kurdistan Flag along with the Iraqi one atop all public institutions.
Despite concerns from some ethnic groups in the province, the response to the sighting of the colorful flag over any governmental or non-governmental building has never been as visceral as they have become since the events of Oct. 16.
Serving as a symbol for the Kurdish people’s distinct nation, the flag of red, white, and green with a yellow sun at its center was ratified as the national flag in 1999 by the Kurdistan Region Parliament.
In 2009, the region’s parliament set Dec. 17 as the national Flag Day, with Kurds from all over the world celebrating that day. Late last year, Kurds from the Kurdish city of Kirkuk also celebrated.
In a statement on Tuesday night, the PUK claimed their restraint in raising the Kurdistan flag since early October 2017 had been in response to the death of their founder, Mam Jalal Talabani. The move appears to be the PUK’s first on the matter since then.
Similar sightings were made on different occasions over a number of their offices in 2018, but every time, the flags were up for only a few hours.
“[T]here is no legal barrier prohibiting the raising of the Kurdistan Flag,” the PUK stated. “The flags of Kurdistan and the PUK are present inside every office, hall, meeting, and national events.”
Kurds in the city welcomed the decision, taking to the streets to share their joy, waving flags of their own with pride and performing Kurdish dances in public to festive music.
At the same time, the acting governor of the province and the Turkmen Front issued statements of condemnation. Jabouri then sent troops to put an end to the merry celebrations.
The “illegal” act “is an attempt to inflame the situation [of Kirkuk] and create new problems among the different peacefully coexisting components of the province,” the Turkmen Front said.
They called on acting governor Jabouri to maintain the “peaceful atmosphere” of the city.
The PUK move “contributed to the encouragement of terrorism and… spread of chaos,” Jabouri said in his statement. “We directed the security forces at all levels to address the situation and preserve the security and stability of Kirkuk.”
Security sources told local media they sighted multiple detachments of security forces in the city that dispersed the revelers and put an end to the festivities.
They also took down the newly-hoisted flags from the city’s iconic castle and two neighborhoods where flags were spotted, but the PUK insists their flags are still raised.
Editing by Nadia Riva