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KURDISTAN - Pax Americana In Iraq Is Changing - Part 3.

On Sept. 1 Kurdistan's President Mas'oud Barzani declared that "regions in Iraq's Kurdistan which have been hoisting the Ba'thist flag should lower it and hoist only the Kurdistan flag". His statement was primarily targeted at the eastern part of the self-rule zone, formerly run by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the once rival to Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

Before the merger of the KDP and PUK governments in May, the PUK-run areas usually flew a version of the red, white, black and green Iraqi flag, which Kurds identify with the former ruling Ba'th Party's brutal campaigns in their region, alongside the red, white, yellow and green Kurdish national flag. Barzani's enclave, the western part of Kurdistan, flew only the Kurdish flag.

Barzani's decree caused an outcry from Sunni Arab politicians in Baghdad, who denounced it as a land grab - a step towards partitioning Iraq into three states: Kurdistan in the north, a Sunni Arab entity in the centre (known as the Sunni Triangle), and a Shi'ite entity in the south. Many Sunni Arabs fear that the oil-rich north and south of the country will pull away at the expense of their comparatively resources-poor heartland.

Hoshyar Zebari on Sept. 4 was quoted by the BBC as saying there was no intent for Kurdistan to secede from the rest of Iraq. He belittled the importance of the new flag.

During an address to Kurdistan's parliament, Barzani on Sept. 1 said: "If we want to separate, we will do it, without hesitation or fears". On Sept. 3 he launched a scathing attack on Sunni Arab leaders over their opposition to his order banning the national flag from public buildings. "Those who condemn it are chauvinists, escaping from internal problems", Barzani told the MPs.

Barzani tempered his comments by saying that Kurdish leaders had already voted to remain in a united Iraq, but his statement still inflamed government leaders in Baghdad, who fear the Kurds are pushing for independence from the rest of the country.

The Kurdish region has been gradually gaining more autonomy since the 2003 US-led invasion, a worrying development to many Iraqi leaders, especially Sunni Arabs. The Sunnis fear that, if Kurdistan were to become independent along with the Shi'ite majority in the oil-rich south, they would be left with little more than date groves and sand. But experts and geologists argue that the Sunni Triangle is rich in mineral resources, including phosphate and natural gas in the west, major oil deposits in the Baghdad and Tikrit areas.

PM Nouri al-Maliki, from a faction of the Shi'ite al-Da'wa al-Islamiya movement, on Sept. 3 issued a terse statement, saying that only the national flag should be hoisted throughout the country, adding: "The current Iraqi flag is the only one which must be hoisted on each bit of Iraq's land until a decision is adopted by the [central] parliament according to the constitution". It did not directly mention the flag dispute.

On Sept. 2, Sunni Arab MP Saleh al-Mutlaq slammed Barzani's decision, saying: "What will be taken by force today, will be returned by force another day" - without elaborating. He added: "We can defend our dignity, our people and our land...and no one should be under the illusion that he could take a tiny bit of somebody else's land".

Speaking to Kurdistan's parliament, Barzani said the national flag did not represent Iraqis. He said the Kurds would use an early version of the Iraqi flag which was flown after the end of the monarchy in 1958.

The Kurdish area had been out of Saddam Hussein's control since the 1991 Gulf wr, when the Kurds set up their autonomous region under the protection of US and British warplanes. Iraq's new constitution - endorsed by referendum on Oct. 15, 2005, recognises Kurdish self-rule and provides a legal mechanism for other areas to govern themselves but within the Iraqi state.

The Kurdish government has claimed the right to sign contracts to develop new petroleum fields in its northern territory, a claim rejected by the government of Baghdad. Nonetheless, Kurdish leaders recently said they had reached a key compromise with the federal government on revenue-sharing, a step towards a broader agreement on petroleum policy.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Fate of the Arabian Peninsula
Date:Sep 11, 2006
Words:699
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