Turkey wary as Iraqi Kurds hoist Kurdish flag

Turkey wary as Iraqi Kurds hoist Kurdish flag
September 14th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Turkey wary as Iraqi Kurds hoist Kurdish flag

Turkey wary as Iraqi Kurds hoist Kurdish flag
Media: AFP
Byline: N/A
Date: 14 September 2006

ANKARA, Sept 14, 2006 (AFP) - 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, Massud 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 neighboring
countries -- Turkey, Iran and Syria -- who worry that such a step could stir
unrest among their own Kurdish minorities.

The Kurdish conflict in Turkey has claimed more than 37,000 lives since 1984
when the Kurdistan Workers' Party or PKK, blacklisted as a terrorist group
by Ankara and much of the international community, took up arms to fight for
self-rule in the majority-Kurdish southeast.

Despite its misgivings, Ankara opened up its borders in 1991 to hundreds of
thousands of Iraqi Kurds fleeing Saddam Hussein's pogrom following the first
Gulf War.

Until the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Turkey had always considered
northern Iraq to be part of its backyard. Baghdad's grip on the region was

Turkish forces frequently carried out cross-border raids against members of
the Kurdistan Workers' Party fleeing from Turkey into Iraq.

Recently, Ankara has seemed even more preoccupied by Iraqi Kurds' alleged
ambition to incorporate the strategic oil city of Kirkuk within their
autonomous zone, fearing it could become the capital of an oil-rich
independent Kurdistan.

"We have to be very careful about what is happening there," said the
chief-of-staff of Turkey's army, General Ilker Basbug.

Speaking to journalists in Ankara, the general underlined what he described
as Kurdish designs on Kirkuk, and repeated Ankara's position that the
defense of the city's ethnic Turk minority was a non-negotiable issue.

Ultra-nationalists in Turkey have called for military intervention in
northern Iraq to secure the city, but the government has avoided evoking the
possibility since such action could put Turkey on a collision course with
fellow North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member the United States.

Iraq's Kurdish minority has enjoyed substantial autonomy since Baghdad's
defeat in the 1991 Gulf War over Kuwait and strongly supported the 2003
US-led invasion that unseated Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Since Saddam's fall, Kurdish politicians have taken part in national
politics and put their historic demands for independence on hold. But
continuing violence -- such as a bomb blast Tuesday that killed 10 people in
Diyarbakir, the largest city in Turkey's Kurdish southeast -- keeps
separatist tensions high.

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