Far from pursuing ultra-ambitious neocon agendas to dismantle Iraq, Washington appears terrified of a unified Iraqi state under at least some degree of US control breaking down, and sparking a crisis that could engulf the entire Middle East. On Sept. 5, the US harshly criticized the decree by Masoud Barzani, president of Iraq’s northern Kurdish region, banning the Iraqi national flag. “Unilateral steps by regions or parties on this issue are inappropriate and do not have the support of the United States,” envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said, adding Washington was committed to “Iraq’s unity and territorial integrity”.
After the Kurdish regional government banned the use of the Iraqi flag on public buildings as a symbol of oppression under Saddam Hussein, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shi’ite Arab, issued a statement demanding the use of the tricolor and implying that the Kurds’ own banner was illegitimate.
In a statement, Khalilzad said: “Decisions on Iraq’s national symbols must be made by the Iraqi people as a whole through an established constitutional process.”
In an apparent move to defuse the dispute, a government official announced Sept. 4 that changing Iraq’s flag was now a priority and that the issue would be taken up in parliament, which returns to work after a summer recess.
Barzani said in a letter sent to Iraqi parliament speaker Mahmoud Al-Mashhadani that a new flag representing all Iraqis must be agreed upon according to article 12 of the constitution.
President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, also said parliament should vote for a flag to replace the current tricolor, which he called “not the flag of the Iraqis but the flag of Saddam”. He also insisted that Kurds were not seeking independence from Iraq. (KUNA, Sept. 7; Reuters, Sept. 5)
In another move obviously aimed to appease the US, authorities in Sulaimaniyah arrested the head of an Iraqi Kurdish party with close links to Turkey’s PKK guerrillas Sept. 7. “On Thursday, security forces arrested Faik Mohammed Kolbi, the leader of the Kurdish Democratic Solution,” an Iraqi officer said.
The KDS is an Iraqi ally of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Last month, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki promised Ankara that the PKK would no longer be allowed to operate in Iraq after claims that it had mounted renewed cross-border attacks.
Kolbi was arrested as a suspect in the February 2005 murder of a PKK dissident, Kamal Shahin. But PKK supporters in Iraqi Kurdistan said Kolbi’s detention was a sop to Turkey from Iraqi authorities eager to show that they are serious in their crackdown. Kolbi is a former surgeon who has been a leading Kurdish militant since 1980. He was elected to the parliament of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region in 1992, and has led the KDS since 2001. (Turkish Press, Sept. 8)