Ankara Threatened Erbil Over Kirkuk’s Kurdistan Flag

Both Ankara and Tehran threatened Erbil after the Kurdish-led local government in Kirkuk raised the Kurdistan flag alongside the Iraqi one over state buildings, a senior Kurdish official revealed on Tuesday evening.

According to Rudaw, it was these threats, along with “illogical and unexpected” messages coming out of Baghdad, that compelled the two main ruling parties in Kurdistan to meet and decide on holding a referendum on independence, Saadi Ahmad Pira, a member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), told members and supporters of his party in Stockholm, Sweden.

“We received a strong message from Turkey, threatening us,” Pira explained, saying the threat was made in the days following a majority vote from the Kirkuk Provincial Council to raise the Kurdistan flag. “We received a message from Iran, strongly threatening us.”

“In Iraq, where Sunnis and Shiites are in extreme disagreement, they became one and joined together over the issue of the Kurdistan flag,” he continued. “That is why we were forced to meet on the 2nd.”

A high-level meeting of Kurdish leadership took place in Erbil on April 2 to discuss options to respond to the messages received from Ankara, Tehran, and Baghdad. The meeting concluded with an announcement that the Kurdistan Region will hold a referendum on independence in 2017.

With this announcement, the Kurdish leadership “instead of backing down, took a step forward with referendum,” so that we are in “offensive mode,” said Pira.

Responding to claims that the meeting was a game of politics for domestic use, Pira explained that the meeting was not party politics, but rather was in response to a serious threat to the Kurdistan Region that required a “united” response from both parties.

“There was even a possibility of troops being deployed,” he said, without making it clear what troops he was referring to.

The statement issued jointly by the PUK Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) after their April 2 meeting 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.”

Iran, Turkey, and Iraq all separately stated that they are against raising the Kurdistan flag in Kirkuk, and are also against the independence referendum.

Two days after the April 2 meeting, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan warned Kirkuk is not Kurdish alone, but also Turkmen and Arab, and that if the Kurdistan flag is not taken down in the city, a price will be paid. He warned that ties between and Erbil may suffer.

The Iranian Quds commander, Qasem Soleimani, visited Sulaimani, the PUK stronghold, in an attempt to discourage a referendum on independence in the Kurdistan Region, the Arab-language newspaper Sharq al-Awsat reported.

In a diplomatic effort, the two KDP, PUK, and the Kurdish government held a meeting behind closed doors with foreign missions in Erbil last week to officially inform them about Kurdish intentions to hold a referendum on independence.

Some 30 foreign consulates in Erbil, including those of Turkey and Iran, were invited to the meeting. Kurdish leaders emphasized that the referendum will be confined to Iraqi Kurdistan territories, dispelling possible fears that the Kurdish government may interfere in neighbouring countries that have significant Kurdish populations, namely Turkey, Iran, and Syria.