Two Kurdish parties, the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) led by Masoud Barzani and the Kurdistan Patriotic Union (KYB) under the leadership of Jalal Talabani, have decided to establish a commission to determine the date of a possible referendum for the independence of Kirkuk, a city known for its predominantly Turkmen population.
As the tension from flying both the Kurdish flag and the Iraqi flag in Kirkuk rises, KRG and KYB officials met on Sunday to discuss an independence referendum, other regional issues and the hanging of the KRG flag alongside Iraq's national flag outside the city's public buildings in Kirkuk, a predominantly Turkmen town.
According to the written statement released after the closed-door meeting: "In the meeting, the referendum on the independence of Kurdistan was discussed in detail by the two parties [the KYB and the KRG]. It was decided that a joint commission would be established to determine the date of the referendum, to form a mechanism to explain how the referendum should be organized and to discuss the issue [of the referendum] with other political parties."
Regarding the KRG flag hanging on the public buildings in Kirkuk, the two parties' officials indicated that: "If the central government of Iraq has the right to display its flag in Kirkuk, the KRG is entitled to as well. The Constitution clearly points out that Kirkuk and several regions are controversial. Therefore, the hanging of the KRG flag is legal and constitutional."
On the other hand, the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF) called on the Baghdad government to do more to have the flag lowered. "We have asked the council of ministers to issue a decree to revoke Kirkuk Provincial Council's decision to fly the Kurdistan flag over the state buildings and the Iraqi government should put [Parliament's] decision into effect," Hassan Toran, a parliamentarian and deputy leader of the ITF, stated on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Turkish opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli harshly criticized the decision to hang the Kurdish flag on the public buildings of Kirkuk while speaking in Sakarya province during his party's referendum rally on Saturday. "Kirkuk is clearly is a Turkish town. This truth will not change. Barzani will never be a friend [to Turks]," Bahçeli said.
Bahçeli also indicated that an independent Kurdistan would seriously threaten Turkey. He also noted that the obstacles in the Turkish governmental system should be resolved in order to fight against the enemy.
Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım also met with Iraqi Turkment Front President Ershad Salihi in Ankara yesterday to discuss the recent development.
Commenting on the possible independence referendum in the Kurdistan region, Turkey's presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın told members of the media on April 30 that such a move would be "wrong." He stressed that, "[Turkey] disapproves of bringing up such a matter, especially in times when its regional security risks are at their highest."
Kalın further drew attention to the importance of maintaining the territorial integrity of Iraq. He noted that, "Iraq's possible separation according to its ethnic and sectarian lines would not only be limited to the territory of Iraq but rather spread over the region and everyone will pay the price for such a move," stressing that the matter must be analyzed in this regard.
Kirkuk flag distracts from Daesh fight: US envoy
U.S. ambassador to Iraq Douglas Silliman has called for resolving the issue of flying the flag of northern Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Kirkuk within the framework of the Iraqi constitution.
Speaking to reporters at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad on Monday, Silliman warned that the flag issue and the referendum were drawing attention away from the ongoing fight against the Daesh terrorist group.
Silliman also said the U.S. is troubled with the presence of the PKK terrorist organization in the Sinjar district in northern Iraq.
"The organization has no reason to be there. We have had several meetings with the Iraqi government regarding the issue," he said.