Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) flags have been taken down from government buildings in Irak's Kirkuk, media sources of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) reported Tuesday.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan previously urged Kurds in Iraq's Kirkuk to haul down the flags, warning that they might disrupt relations with Turkey.
"I find it wrong that a second [KRG] flag other than national [Iraqi] flag is hoisted in Kirkuk. The owners of this flag must know that this is separatism," he said.
Erdoğan also emphasized that Kirkuk belongs to everyone, including Turks, Arabs and Kurds, while calling on the KRG to repeal its "wrong decision."
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 the Kurdish language alongside Arabic, upon which the KPC adopted a decision to raise the KRG flag in government buildings in a session boycotted by its Arab and Turkmen members.
However, the Iraqi Parliament rejected the decision to hoist the flag of KRG alongside the flag of Iraq at government buildings.
The flag issue also came at a time when KRG leader Massoud Barzani made remarks about holding a possible referendum on independence at the "earliest time."
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 the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the ousting of Saddam Hussein. Accordingly, the administrative statuses of these areas were to be determined with referendums by 2007, but the referendums were held due to political turmoil in the country.
Although the countryside of Kirkuk is predominantly inhabited by Kurds, the city itself is predominantly made up of 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 raising concerns in Ankara.
During the Daesh terrorist group's advance in northwestern Iraq in June 2014, KRG forces assumed control of the city.