Byline: Abdelhamid Zebari
Date: 3 September 2006
ARBIL, Iraq, Sept 3, 2006 (AFP) - 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,"
Massud Barzani told members of the Kurdish regional parliament in the
northen city of Arbil.
"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 al-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
"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 -- 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
On May 7, the rival administrations run by the two Kurdish former rebel
groups in the cities of Arbil and Sulaimaniyah were united into a single
autonomous regional government for Iraq's three northern provinces.
Before the merger, some official buildings in Sulaimaniyah province -- which
was ruled by Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) -- would hoist
the Iraqi flag along with the PUK party flag.
Barzani's administration in Arbil and Dohuk provinces has never flown the
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
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 -- which was reportedly based on Saddam's own
handwriting -- 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 Sulaimaniyah 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.