The local government in Mandali, like other disputed or Kurdistani areas, decided to take part in the Kurdish independence referendum last month. The Iraqi government opposes the vote, calling it unconstitutional. Photo: AFP/Safin Hamed
KHANAQIN, Kurdistan Region – Tribal fighters and some fighters from the mainly Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary have taken down the flag of Kurdistan on Sunday from the city hall in Mandali following a vote by the local government to join the Kurdish independence referendum.
Kurdish parties held an emergency meeting headed by a Peshmerga commander in nearby Khanaqin to discuss the situation.
Sherko Miways, a Kurdish official from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), said in a joint statement that the situation is calm now in the town and they are in contact with Iraqi officials in the province and Hashd al-Shaabi commanders to bring the situation under control.
He warned though that they hold Iraqi officials responsible for the safety of the Kurdish people in the town.
Mandali, some 450 kilometers south of Erbil, is part of the disputed or Kurdistani areas claimed by both the Iraqi and Kurdish governments.
Mahmud Sangawi, the commander of the Peshmerga forces in the area who headed the meeting, had told Rudaw earlier that taking down the Kurdish flag in Mandali is not “acceptable” and the fighters should know that their actions will not go unchallenged.
He warned that they consider the Kurdish flag as “sacred”.
Miways said Kurdish officials and the Kurdish population are safe in Mandali.
He said that a group of 150 to 200 people, some of whom he claimed were “former Baathists”, took the Kurdish flag down in Mandali.
Adnan Mansur, in charge of the department that is tasked with the issue of the disputed areas in Mandali, earlier in the day claimed that about 100 fighters of Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, a group associated with the Hashd al-Shaabi, stormed the municipality building and took down the flag.
Mansur said the fighters demanded the local government cancel the vote to join the referendum, also calling for the resignation of members of the Mandali City Council and its head.
Rudaw’s Halo Mohammed reported from Khanaqin that Sunni and Shiite Arab fighters, some from the Hashd al-Shaabi, staged an armed protest in Mandali.
Somaria news, an Iraqi media organization, called the protest peaceful and confirmed that protesters took the Kurdish flag down.
Mandali is part of Diyala Province, northeastern Iraq.
Mansur said the governor of Diyala and the head of the provincial police visited Mandali after the event.
Shaho Abas, head of the Mandali local government, told Rudaw that they asked the governor to bring the situation under control and that the flag of Kurdistan should be restored.
The PUK official said their contact with the governor was “positive” and the Kurdish parties do not want to escalate the tense situation in Mandali or other disputed areas.
Mohammed Hasan, Khanaqin mayor, told reporters they held the meeting in Khanaqin, north of Mandali, because they wanted to make sure that the events in Mandali will not affect the people in Khanaqin.
He called for calm as other Kurdish officials stated they may not be able to stop Kurds from responding in kind if such actions are repeated.
Mandali’s local government voted last month to take part in the Kurdish independence referendum that is scheduled for September 25.
The Kurdish government in Erbil has said they will hold the vote in every disputed area where local elected governments request it.
Considering today’s events in Mandali, Kurdish officials said they may be forced to open polling stations in Khanaqin for the people of Mandali to cast their votes.
The PUK official said that only 30,000 people are now living in Mandali out of the registered population of 120,000.
The Kurdish Peshmerga are in control of Khanaqin, but they do not have bases in Mandali.