ERBIL (AFP) â€” The president of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region launched a scathing attack on Iraqi Arab leaders Sunday over their opposition to his order banning the national flag from public buildings.
“Those who condemn it are chauvinists, escaping from internal problems,” Massoud Barzani told members of the Kurdish regional parliament in the northen city of Erbil.
“They are losers. They are not rulers or statesmen. They can’t run their region and they want to make Kurdistan just like their regions. The time of threats is over, no one has the right force his will on the Kurdish people.” Barzani was talking shortly after Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Maliki, a Shiite Arab, had ordered that: “The present Iraqi flag should be hoisted on every inch of Iraqi soil until parliament takes a decision about it.” This was in response to Barzani’s ban on the flag’s use in the Kurdish region, where many see the red, white and black national banner as a symbol of Arab nationalism and of ousted president Saddam Hussein’s hated Sunni Arab-dominated regime.
“The decision to raise only the Kurdish flag instead of the present Iraqi flag in Kurdistan came after consultation with both President [Jalal] Talabani [a fellow Kurd] and the Iraqi prime minister. I did not take the decision myself,” Barzani insisted.
“I ask for a new flag for Iraq to be raised, according to Item 12 of the Iraqi constitution â€” a new flag and a new national anthem which represents all the components of Iraq,” he told the Kurdish assembly. Iraq’s new constitution will allow regional governments to strengthen their autonomy, but many Arabs fear a break-up of their country and the row over the flag is seen as proxy for the struggle for an independent Kurdistan.
Referring to atrocities committed under the previous regime, Barzani said “the present flag is not the flag of Iraq, but of the Baath Party and chemical strikes, drainage of the marshes, putting down uprisings and mass graves.” On May 7, the rival administrations run by the two Kurdish former resistance groups in the cities of Erbil and Suleimaniyah were united into a single autonomous regional government for Iraq’s three northern provinces. Before the merger, some official buildings in Sulaimaniyah province â€” which was ruled by Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) â€” would hoist the Iraqi flag along with the PUK party flag.
Barzani’s administration in Erbil and Dohuk provinces has never flown the Iraqi flag.
Since Saddam’s ouster in 2003, Kurdish politicians have taken part in national politics and put their historic demands for independence on hold but, as violence rages around the country, separatist tensions remain high.
In April 2004, the then interim government of Iraq attempted to resolve the controversy over the flag, which is emblazoned with three green stars and the legend “God is greatest”, by proposing a new national banner.
A new blue and white design, however, caused much controversy. Some felt the colours were too close to those of the Israeli flag while its crescent motif reminded Kurds of their hated Turkish neighbour. It was swiftly abandoned. Parliament is expected to discuss a potential new design. The 1963 version is painted on Iraqi army vehicles and flies above government buildings in Baghdad.
Most Arab Iraqis accept this design as their national flag, although the design of the Islamic slogan â€” which was reportedly based on Saddam’s own handwriting â€” has been changed to a generic typeface. “Saddam wrote the words ‘God is greatest’. The words are right but they were badly used,” said Barzani on Sunday. “The calligraphy used now differs in each region, but some chauvinist Arab regions still keep the handwriting of Saddam as a souvenir. There is no agreement on the kind of calligraphy to use,” he said.
“Even the flag that used to be raised in Suleimaniyah did not have the words ‘God is greatest’ on it.” Kurdistan’s banner is three red, white and green horizontal bars emblazoned with a golden sun motif. It flies across the Kurdish region over government buildings and military bases.
Some Kurdish official bodies fly Iraq’s 1958-1963 flag, which was that of Abdul Karim Qasim’s republic after he overthrew the monarchy, rather than the later Iraqi symbol with its Baathist and pan-Arab associations.Â