On Sept. 3, AP reported that Iraq's Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani "threatened secession Sunday as a dispute over flying the Iraqi flag intensified".[1]  --  Jalal Talabani, who is the other major Iraqi Kurdish leader (and also president of Iraq), played down the affair as an "exaggerated noise," blaming it on a "constitutional vacuum" over the flag issue due to parliament's failure to act on the issue.  --  DPA's Anne-Beatrice Clasmann observed that the dispute is important because it illustrates the fact that "the divisions between the previously solid 'new Iraq' alliance of the Kurds, the Shiites, and the United States are not so much cracks as fault lines, and slowly but surely they are deepening."[2]  --  On Monday, Reuters reported that there were proposals to defuse the current dispute by taking steps to expedite the creation of a new Iraqi flag by parliament, perhaps as early as Tuesday.[3]  --  Turkey has been waging war against Kurdish separatism for decades, and Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul weighed in in a television interview Monday, saying:  "Those who are doing this must see how dangerous this course is.  If Iraq is willing to accept a flag that is not its own to fly on its own territory, it's over."[4]  --  A number of knowledgeable observers believe that it is over.  --  Peter Galbraith, an advocate of the partition of Iraq, recently published book arguing that "Kurdistan left Iraq in 1991, and is not coming back" (The End of Iraq [Simon and Schuster, 2006], p. 200).  --  Galbraith has worked closely with Kurdish leaders in Iraq; he writes:  "Every Iraqi Kurd I know wants an independent Kurdistan" (ibid., p. 161).  --  The End of Iraq will be discussed this evening (Sept. 4) at 7:00 p.m. at the Mandolin CafĂ© in Tacoma at Digging Deeper, UFPPC's Monday-evening book-discussion group, along with Thomas Ricks's Fiasco, Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor's Cobra II, and Scott Ritter's Iraq Confidential....


By Yahya Barzanji

Associated Press
September 3, 2006


IRBIL, Iraq -- The leader of the Kurdish region in northern Iraq threatened secession Sunday as a dispute over flying the Iraqi flag intensified.

Massoud Barzani on Friday ordered the country's national flag to be replaced with the Kurdish one, sparking harsh words in Baghdad.

"If we want to separate, we will do it, without hesitation or fears," Barzani, president of the Kurdish region, said during an address to parliament.

He tempered his comments slightly by saying that Kurdish leaders already have voted to remain in a united Iraq. But government leaders in Baghdad fear the Kurds are pushing for independence from the rest of Iraq.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki issued a terse statement Sunday.

"The current Iraqi flag is the only one which must be hoisted on each bit of Iraq's land until a decision is adopted by the parliament according to the constitution," the statement from his office said.

President Jalal Talabani's office on Sunday denounced the flap over the flag as an "exaggerated noise."

Talabani, a Kurd, defended Barzani's move, saying there had been a "constitutional vacuum" over the flag issue. Iraq's first interim Governing Council that came after the fall of Saddam Hussein decided to change the flag but no official version has been adopted yet.

"What made the Kurdish parliament take this step is this blunder," the statement said. It added that the flag the Iraqi parliament will adopt will become "sacred" and will be flown throughout Iraq, "including Kurdistan's mountain tops."

The Kurdish region gradually has been gaining more autonomy since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, a worrying development to many Iraqi leaders, especially Sunni Arabs. If the Kurds were to become independent along with the Shiite majority in the oil-rich south, the Sunnis would be left with little more than date groves and sand.

On Saturday, Sunni Arab lawmaker Saleh al-Mutlaq slammed Barzani's decision.

"What will be taken by force today, will be returned by force another day," he said, without elaborating. "We can defend our dignity, our people and our land . . . and no one should be under the illusion that he could take a tiny bit of somebody else's land."

Speaking to parliament, Barzani said the national flag does not represent Iraqis. He said the Kurds would use an early version of the Iraqi flag that was flown after the end of the monarchy in 1958.

The Kurdish area had been out of Saddam Hussein's control since the 1991 Gulf War, when the Kurds set up their autonomous region under the protection of U.S. and British warplanes. After the U.S.-led invasion, Kurdistan was the only region that did not witness major changes.

Iraq's new constitution recognizes Kurdish self-rule and provides a legal mechanism for other areas to govern themselves but within the Iraqi state.


By Anne-Beatrice Clasmann

Deutsche Presse-Agentur
September 4, 2006


BAGHDAD -- On the surface they may appear to be hairline cracks: petty disputes over flags and symbols.

But take a closer look, and the divisions between the previously solid 'new Iraq' alliance of the Kurds, the Shiites, and the United States are not so much cracks as fault lines, and slowly but surely they are deepening.

Prior to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in early 2003, the country's Shiites and Kurds were united in one goal and against one enemy: the Sunni-dominated Saddam Hussein regime, its party functionaries, torturers, and slavery.

Today however Kurds and Shiites are fighting bitterly. One dispute centers on which flag is to be flown in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

Kurds contend that the Iraqi flag has no place in their towns and cities, as it a 'symbol of the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.' Iraqi President Nuri al-Maliki however counters that only one flag my be permitted fly from Iraqi flagpoles.

The dispute has escalated with Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish region, making at the weekend veiled threats that the Kurds would declare their own independent state.

The notion has been prompted some Sunni politicians to man the proverbial barricades, with hints that any such move by the Kurds towards independence would be met with violent reprisal.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, after Barzani the second most powerful man in the Kurdish regions, is now working on his own proposal to end the dispute -- namely the design of a new Iraqi flag.

Meanwhile the Shiite political parties, which owing to their lion's share of the population now hold the balance of political power in Iraq, are at the same time at loggerheads with the U.S.

Al-Maliki is demanding more power and sovereignty for the Iraqi army, while insisting that the U.S. forces -- with their considerable reconnaissance, armor, and air force capabilities -- remain in the background at all times, ready to step in when the insurgent threat gets too much for the Iraqis. It's a formula that the American government is none too keen on.

Washington is also unimpressed by increasing calls for U.S. soldiers who have committed crimes on Iraqi soil to be tried in Iraqi courts, rather than before military tribunals as is currently the case.

Among the most notorious of such cases concerns an alleged incident in the southern Iraqi town of Mahmoudiyah, where U.S. troops are accused of having raped an Iraqi girl before killing her and her entire family. Another concerns four U.S. troops accused of killing in cold blood three Iraqi prisoners.

Amid all this infighting, the death toll of Iraqis killed by insurgent bombs continues to climb inexorably month on month.

A new Pentagon report states that conditions in post-Saddam Iraq are ripe for a descent into civil war. U.S. President George W Bush rejects this possibility, but as yet has failed to draw up a coherent exit strategy for U.S. troops in the country.

On the contrary, Bush last weekend declared: 'If America were to withdraw before Iraq can defend itself, the consequences would be catastrophic. Then we would surrender Iraq to the terrorist.'


By Alastair Macdonald

September 4, 2006


BAGHDAD -- Iraq may get a new flag to replace one rejected by ethnic Kurds as a symbol of oppression under Saddam Hussein, the government said on Monday, hoping to defuse a nasty row that provoked threats of Kurdish secession.

It could be brought up as early as Tuesday in parliament.

After the Kurdish regional leader banned the national flag and the prime minister hit back bluntly, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said he understood the Kurds' position and that designing a new flag now had greater priority.

"Due to such issues, there will be certain priorities in order to advance approving a new flag," he told Reuters.

"It was not urgent but now it is more urgent."

A Kurdish member of the Baghdad parliament said his party aimed to introduce a motion at Tuesday's first session since the summer recess calling for a new flag and a new national anthem.

Iraq's president, also a Kurd, appeared to throw his weight behind a change, describing the present one as "the Saddamist flag, stained with the blood of hundreds of thousands."

Dabbagh defended the statement on Sunday by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shi'ite Arab, that said only the national tricolour must be flown and implied the Kurdish regional flag, ubiquitous in the northern mountains, had no official standing.

"But," he said, "We understand the sensitivity of the Kurdistan people, that they have been killed under this flag."

Kurdish President Massoud Barzani banned flying the Iraqi flag in the region, home to 5 million of Iraq's 26 million people, because of its association with Saddam's Baathist rule and the deaths of many thousands in the Anfal attacks of 1988.

"This is the flag of the Baath and Anfal, of chemical attacks and mass graves," Barzani said, repeating in strong terms his warning that Kurds might one day choose independence.


Iraqi President Jalal Talabani defended Barzani, long his bitter rival, and appeared to back a new design by parliament:

"The Iraqi flag, which will be ratified by the Iraqi parliament according to the constitution, will be a sacred flag, venerated, accepted by everyone, raised and fluttering over the heads of Iraqis and on the peaks of the Kurdistan mountains."

Nawzat Saleh Rifaat, a member of parliament from Talabani's party, told Reuters: "We demand the flag be changed. We are seeking to change it so that all Iraqi people would be united.

"This does not mean we want to secede. At the first session of parliament, we will ask for a new flag and national anthem."

Some other members of parliament voiced their support.

The red, white, and black horizontal tricolor with a line of three green stars in the middle is a Baathist design adopted after a 1963 coup and modelled after that of other Arab states.

It replaced a design that featured a sun motif representing the Kurds. After invading Kuwait in 1990, Saddam added the words "Allahu Akbar" (God is Greatest) in his own hand. Since he fell, new flags feature the words in a neutral printed typography.

Under the U.S. occupation authority, a radical 2004 design, white with blue and yellow stripes and a crescent moon, was never implemented. Some said it reminded them of Israel's flag.

Insubstantial though it may be, the symbolism of the dispute exposes friction between Arabs and Kurds that, along with the rift between Sunni and Shi'ite Arabs, threatens Iraq's unity.

(Additional reporting by Hiba Moussa and Sherko Raouf)



Associated Press
September 4, 2006


ISTANBUL -- Turkey's foreign minister warned the leader of the Kurdish region in the north of Iraq on Monday that his decision to replace the Iraqi flag with the Kurdish one was "dangerous."

Abdullah Gul also said the Iraqi government had to take action against the order given by Massoud Barzani, which was interpreted by many as a symbolic step toward the separation of the Kurdish region from the rest of the country.

"Those who are doing this must see how dangerous this course is," Gul said in an interview with private NTV television. "If Iraq is willing to accept a flag that is not its own to fly on its own territory, it's over."

Turkey neighbors Iraq, has its own large and restive Kurdish population and is wary of any separatist moves among Iraqi Kurds, fearing they could encourage Turkey's estimated 14 million Kurds to join their Iraqi counterparts in a fight for an independent state.

Gul said the Iraqi government's response to the flag declaration -- which was accompanied by a blunt threat of secession -- had been strong, but more needed to be done.

"It cannot just be words," Gul said.

The Kurdish region of Iraq has gradually been gaining more autonomy since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, a worrying development to Turks and many Iraqi leaders, especially Sunni Arabs.

If the Kurds were to become independent along with the Shiite majority in the oil-rich south, the Sunnis would be left with almost nothing.

Turkey's own fight with homegrown Kurdish separatists has killed more than 37,000 people since 1984, when the rebels took up arms against the state in their fight for greater autonomy.