Iraq Kurds Demand Right to Raise Kurdish Flags in Contested Area

One protestor sets himself on fire

Thousands of Kurdish Iraqis gathered in Khanaqin today to demand the right to fly the Kurdish flag in their city. Earlier this week, they learned of a central government order to remove the flags, which fly everywhere, even at local government buildings. As many as 20,000 protestors were reported at today’s gathering. At least one man was injured during the demonstrations after he set himself on fire.

Whether or not there is an actual order removing the flags is a matter of contention itself. A spokesman for Diyala province police department, Maj. Ghalib al-Karkhi, said the pronouncement had come from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s office. Without confirming or denying the existence of an order, a spokesman for the Iraqi leader, Ali al-Moussawi, instead remarked that raising the flag goes against the Iraqi constitution and is likely to increase tensions. Other Arab politicians support the decision.

Mohammed Mulla Hasan, who is an area governor, warned officials that the issue is very sensitive and asked the central government not to further provoke the local citizens by implementing the order. He warned of revolution should the flags be forcibly lowered. Kurdish Parliament Speaker Kamal Karkuki went so far as to say the flag is “sacred” to Kurds.

Although Khanaqin is in Diyala province and subject to full control of the central government, the city is predominantly Kurdish and lies within a contested border region next to semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan. Many citizens would like to join their area with the three provinces already under the Kurdish government’s authority. The central government, however, has been slow to honor a different section of the Iraq Constitution. Article 140 would, following a successful referendum, allow predominantly Kurdish areas to officially join Iraq Kurdistan.