The Iraqi Parliament decided Saturday to reject the Kirkuk Governorate's decision to hoist the flag of northern Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), alongside the flag of Iraq at government buildings.
The Council of Representatives also ruled to suspend the sale of oil extracted from Kirkuk, noting that the income from Kirkuk's oil belongs to all Iraqis as cited by Article 11 of the Iraqi constitution, and added that it should be distributed equally among the KRG and other Iraqi provinces.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Iraqi Turkmen deputy Hasan Turan said that Kurdish deputies left the session, which was opened with 186 deputies attending and chaired by Speaker Salim al-Jabouri.
Last Thursday, the Kirkuk Governorate requested that the Kirkuk Provincial Council (KPC) raise the KRG flag alongside the Iraqi flag at local institutions and instated the use of Kurdish alongside Arabic. On Tuesday, KPC adopted a decision to raise the KRG flag in government buildings in a session boycotted by Arab and Turkmen members.
The decision sparked widespread criticism in Turkey with many officials and politicians warning the KRG to avoid unilateral moves on Kirkuk. The Turkish Foreign Ministry expressed concerns on the decision, noting that the unilateral steps regarding the status of Kirkuk will damage dialogue between groups representing different ethnic and religious groups as well as breach the country's constitution.
The flag issue also came at a time when KRG leader Massoud Barzani made remarks on holding a possible referendum on independence at the "earliest time."
Turkey's Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalın warned that move would be "wrong," stressing that Turkey, which has cordial ties with the KRG, "disapproves bringing up such a matter especially in the times when regional security risks are at their highest."
He further drew attention to the importance of maintaining the territorial integrity of Iraq and noted that "Iraq's possible separation according to ethnic and sectarian lines would not only be limited within the territory of Iraq but would rather spread throughout the region and everyone would pay the price for such a move," Kalın said while stressing that the matter must be analyzed in this regard.
Kirkuk is among the disputed territories between the central government and the KRG, which is defined in Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution, adopted after U.S. invasion of Iraq and toppling of Saddam Hussein. Accordingly, the administrative statuses of these areas were to be determined with referendums by 2007, but the referendums have not been held so far due to political turmoil in the country.
Although the countryside of Kirkuk is predominantly inhabited by Kurds, the city itself is predominantly inhabited by Arabs and Iraqi Turkmens. The region was subjected to an Arabization policy during the Baath Party rule, but after 2003; this policy was reversed in favor of Kurds, prompting protests by the local Arab and Turkmen population and raised concerns in Ankara.
During the Daesh terrorist group's advance in northwestern Iraq in June 2014, KRG forces assumed control of the city.