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Kurdistan will hold independence referendum in 2017, senior official

By Rudaw 2/4/2017
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Kurdistan will hold independence referendum in 2017, senior official
A meeting between a Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) delegation (L) and a delegation of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) (R) in Erbil. Photo: Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – With the goal of holding a referendum on Kurdish independence this year, a joint committee from the Kurdish political parties is to be tasked with deciding on the timing and mechanism of such a vote. 

The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) held a high-level meeting on Sunday presided over by President Masoud Barzani. In a joint statement released after their hours-long meeting, the two main ruling Kurdish parties announced they would form a joint committee to prepare for a referendum on independence for the Kurdistan Region.

The spokesperson for the KDP, Mahmud Mohamad, told Rudaw following the meeting that both parties agreed to hold the referendum this year. 

The joint statement declared that the Kurdish nation is entitled to vote on its future through the practice of self-determination as it is the “natural right of the nation of Kurdistan to decide on its political and administrative path in a referendum and an entity of an independent state.”

“The two sides, through a joint high committee, [are tasked to] discuss this issue with the political and national parties of Kurdistan to form a joint committee in order to set the timing and mechanism to hold a referendum,” the statement continued.

The joint PUK-KDP committee will start visiting other Kurdish parties as early as tomorrow, the KDP spokesperson added. 

Mohamad also said that the Kurdish parties will open negotiations with Baghdad and neighbouring countries on the issue of independence.  

The parties’ statement also touched on the flag controversy in Kirkuk and defended Tuesday's vote by the Kirkuk Provincial Council to hoist the Kurdistan flag next to the Iraqi one. 

“The two sides believe that the Iraqi government keeps on ignoring the implementation of Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution. That is why, just as the Iraqi government has the right to have its flag in Kirkuk, the Kurdistan Region also has the right to raise the flag, because the constitution makes clear reference to Kirkuk and some other places as disputed areas. Hereby, for Kurdistan, raising the Kurdistan flag is legal and constitutional,” the statement read.

A Kurdish delegation formed by the two parties will visit Baghdad later this week to discuss the flag issue, according to Mohamad.

President Barzani earlier welcomed the decision to raise the Kurdistan flag in Kirkuk, calling it “normal and legal.” Kosrat Rasul, the PUK deputy-secretary-general, not only hailed flying the Kurdistan flag in Kirkuk, but also called it the Jerusalem of Kurdistan, referring to an old sentiment that Kirkuk is the heart of Kurdistan. 
 
Rasul said that the decades-long struggle of the Kurdish Peshmerga was “to raise the sacred flag of Kurdistan over every inch of our country, in particular in the head of Kurdistan, the Jerusalem city of Kirkuk."
 
Both President Barzani and Rasul were taking part in Sunday’s meeting. 
 
Sirwan Zahawi, a legal expert on constitutional matters, told Rudaw on Saturday that a vote from the Iraqi parliament to lower the Kurdish flag in Kirkuk is not binding, adding that Kirkuk did not need to pass a vote in the Council because the local government, in accordance with the current Iraqi constitution and laws, already had the powers to raise the Kurdistan flag.
 
“Not raising the Kurdistan flag is unconstitutional,” Zahawi argued as he explained that the province falls into what is called the disputed areas, as defined by Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution, and by definition, both Baghdad and Erbil have the same claim in the province on an equal basis. 
 
Article 140 was put into the Iraqi constitution after the removal of the Baath party in Iraq. It concerns areas claimed by both Erbil and Baghdad, such as Kirkuk and some areas in Nineveh.

The constitution requires that Iraqis displaced by “Arabization” be compensated and moved back to their original areas, a process that has been resisted by many Arabs who have lived in disputed areas for decades. Kurds see Article 140 as a way to remedy the injustices of “Arabization” policies and strengthen the Kurdistan Region.
 
Kirkuk, though it falls under Article 140, has been secured by the Peshmerga since mid-2014 and the local government voted to raise the Kurdish flag over government buildings in the city last month. The local government in Kirkuk raised the Kurdistan flag alongside the Iraqi one over the Kirkuk governorate building last week after a vote by the provincial council. Some Turkmen and Arab representatives in the Kirkuk council boycotted the vote.
 
The council also named March 28 — the day the flag was hoisted — a day to be celebrated annually.
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