Kurdistan and Iraq flags flying in Kirkuk. Photo: Sartip Othman/Rudaw
KIRKUK, Kurdistan Region – The acting head of the Kirkuk Provincial Council has received a request to appear before an administrative court in Baghdad in connection with a legal challenge to the Council’s decision to fly the Kurdistan flag over the government buildings in March.
Rebwar Talabani said he was notified late last month of the case filed by members of the Iraqi Turkmen Front in the Iraqi parliament against the Council.
“This shows that they are against the Kurdistan flag,” Talabani told reporters on Thursday.
Some Turkmen and Arab members of the Kirkuk council boycotted the vote in March.
According to Talabani, the legal challenge is based on nine grounds, with the Turkmen Front MPs claiming that raising the Kurdistan flag is not “legal” and is against the Iraqi constitution.
Talabani said he is ready to appear before the court on July 3 where he will defend raising the Kurdistan flag, a decision he said the Council believes is constitutional as Kirkuk is one of the disputed areas, also called Kurdistani areas by Kurds, claimed by both the Kurdistan Region and Iraqi government.
He rationalized that both governments who have claims over the territory have the right to raise their flags.
The decision to raise the Kurdistan flag along with the Iraqi flag also met with opposition from Iran and Turkey.
The Turkmen Front has good ties with Ankara.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned then that if the local government in Kirkuk, under the control of the Kurdish parties, decided not to lower the Kurdistan flag, relations between Ankara and Erbil may suffer as the result.
The dispute over Kirkuk has become a factor for Turkey in the Kurdistan Region’s referendum on independence that will be held on September 25 across the Region and in Kurdistani areas, including Kirkuk.
Ankara has called the planned vote a “grave mistake.” A top Turkish official said that Turkey’s primary objection to the referendum is the inclusion of Kirkuk in the vote.
"What really concerned us was that Kurdish leaders want to include Kirkuk in this process while according to the Iraqi constitution Kirkuk is an Iraqi city and is not within Kurdish boundaries," Ibrahim Kalin, spokesperson for the Turkish presidency said in a press conference on Wednesday.
"If any attempts will be made to forcefully include Kirkuk in the referendum question, problems will be made for Kirkuk and its surrounding areas."
A statement from the Turkish foreign ministry argued on Friday that the decision to raise the flag of Kurdistan in Kirkuk is what initiated the referendum process.
Erbil and Ankara have developed strong political, security, and economic relations for over the past decade.
Turkey is currently the only gateway for the export of Kurdish oil sent to the international market independently, including product from the oil-rich province of Kirkuk.
The Iraqi parliament voted in April to repeal the decision by the local government in Kirkuk to raise the Kurdistan flag in the disputed city. Talabani refused to commit to the decision passed by the Iraqi parliament.
“It is impossible for Kurdistan’s flag to be lowered again,” he said at the time.