Turkey wary as Iraqi Kurds hoist flag

ANKARA — The decision by northern Iraq’s Kurdish leaders to ban the national flag and hoist their own has increased disquiet in Turkey about the prospect of a de facto Kurdish statelet on its doorstep, diplomats and analysts here say.

With a large Kurdish population and a violent separatist movement on its own territory, Ankara is leery about any moves towards independence across the border that might encourage Kurdish nationalists at home.

“It is obvious that this incident constitutes a new step towards Kurdish independence,” said Sedat Laciner, a specialist on the region at the Institute for Strategic Studies in Ankara, of the flag ruling.

“Even if they have stepped back from their original position, by provoking the controversy they have succeeded in focusing world attention on their emblem and their independence struggle,” he said.

Reaction in Ankara has nonetheless been muted since the president of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, Massoud Barzani, ordered earlier this month that all offices and government institutions “hoist the flag of Iraqi Kurdistan”, though the decree touched off a firestorm of controversy in Iraq itself.

“It is first and foremost the Iraqis that should be worrying about this turn of events” was all that Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul would say in a comment broadcast on television. A Turkish diplomat who asked not to be identified expanded on the minister’s statement: “The Iraqis must understand how dangerous it is for the unity of their country to play with the national emblem.” Kurds in northern Iraq, recently unified under a single leadership, already enjoy quasi-independence under the protective umbrella of the United States, much to the chagrin of Ankara, Laciner said.

Making a point of flying Kurdistan’s red, white and green banner emblazoned with a golden sun motif, he added, is simply another part of their separatist campaign.

In Laciner’s view, Iraqi Kurds will never openly declare independence for fear of provoking strong reactions from the governments of neighbouring countries — Turkey, Iran and Syria — who worry that such a step could stir unrest among their own Kurdish minorities.

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