Saturday, September 30, 2006

"New Faces, Old Tunes"
Eamad J. Mazouri

To the astonishment of Kurdistan Regional Government, and in an interview with al-Sabah newspaper published 24 September, [Federal] Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein Shahristani said his Ministry is not committed to investment contracts signed by the Kurdistan Regional Government in oil industry. He further stated that Baghdad [Federal] Oil Ministry would review the terms of these contracts.

This unpleasant bolt from the blue brought a swift response from the Office of the Prime Minister of KRG Mr. Nechirvan Barzani in the form of a Statement, blaming Iraqi Federal Government for non-implementation of the Iraqi Constitution, and attempting sabotage Kurdistan’s meticulous efforts to develop the region.

The statement read that, article 115 of the Iraqi Constitution of 2005 gives Regions [Kurdistan] “all powers not stipulated in the exclusive powers of the federal government.” Thus, Oil and Gas are not among the exclusive powers of the federal government.

Also, article 141 of the Iraqi Constitution specifically validates “decisions issued by the Kurdistan Regional Government, including court decisions and contracts” since 1992.
The statement further elaborated that, the people of Kurdistan of their free volition chose to be in a voluntarily union with Iraq on the basis of the constitution. If Baghdad Ministers refuse to put up with that constitution, the people of Kurdistan reserve the right to reconsider that choice.
It appears that no matter what the Kurdistan Regional Government does, it would be considered the wrong choice by those who are trying to turn KRG’s actions around and portray Kurdistan unreasonably and with prejudice as endeavoring to secede and form an independent Kurdistan. A charge that has been overused by Kurds’ opponents inside and outside Iraq but every time refuted by KRG officials. Those suspicious circles in fact are the ones that are seeking the disintegration of Iraq as they have in their mind if they fail to regain the power they had under dictatorship, but currently lost.

Kurdistan Regional Government has over and over again reiterated that Kurdistan opted of her free will to enter into a contract with Iraq to build a democratic federalism based on a voluntary union. The Iraqi Constitution is considered to be that contract or the major portion of it next to Kurdistan constitution.

Today, Kurds are not only major players in the political game in Baghdad, but also are playing a key role in bringing various Iraqi factions together to build the new federal Iraq. It is time for those who are throwing various accusations at Kurds to put an end to their baseless claims and focus instead on the real issues facing Iraq such as security and providing basic services to their citizens. Kurdistan Regional Government has expressed its wish and will in more than one occasion to assist the rest of Iraq to restore that and to share its experience with them.

On the other hand, federalism is not a ready to apply prescription. Every country must follow its own case in point, taking advantage of the accumulated international experience available. However, there is one significant lesson every potential country to be a federal candidate can benefit from. Since federal unions, unlike autonomies are conceptually different in terms of structure. For two regions or more to enter into a contract to form a union, that union usually becomes more powerful and lasting if further authority is retained by the regions and less given to the federal government. The best example here would be the first modern federal system in the world; that is the American model. On the other hand,[ assuming all the power is held by the intended regions, as it suppose to be the case in forming federations]when more concessions are made in favor of the federal government at the expense of the regions, the latter naturally will crave for more powers. Inevitably, persistency will lead to constant demand by regions for more powers that would result in shifting power from the center to the region and ultimately leading to the disintegration of the union. On the contrary, when regions reserve more powers at the outset, through constitutional and judicial channels and over time the power shifts in the other direction, empowering the federal government without threatening the regions as it was the case in the United States of America. Understanding the essence of this equation and accepting it will allow the Iraqi people to make the intelligent choice between building a temporary or a lasting federal union.

Unfortunately, this incident came in a chain of events that we could say started with Saddam’s flag controversy fabricated a few weeks ago, to the federal issue that was discussed in the parliament and put to rest for 18 months, followed by the Kirkuk issue and other Kurdish Arabized regions and now topped by the oil issue.

It is obvious that this charade will not stop unless there is a basic understanding and certain degree of tolerance and trust among Iraqi Arabs on the main issues that have been agreed upon in the constitution. They must understand that agreements are not made today to be retracted tomorrow especially not this one if they need to build a democratic federal Iraq as they claim.
If they have the intention of building something other than that or are trying to go back to dictatorship and coerced union that was imposed on the Kurds against their will, they can do it on their own without the Kurdish participation or blessings. No Kurdish administration or citizen has the stomach to go through that ordeal once again.

It is crystal clear that Kurdistan Regional Government is within its constitutional powers when making deals with international oil companies especially when it comes to exploration rights and new wells. The constitution is very clear in this regard. Current wells would be shared with federal government while the new ones fall under the jurisdiction of KRG. The administration and marketing are another issue and the constitution has dealt with that.

Mr. Shahristani and some other Iraqi federal officials either haven't grasped the concept of federalism or they don't believe in it or are misinterpreting the constitution. In either case, they are echoing the deposed regime's stance when it comes to Kurdish rights in this regard.
For decades the Kurds have fought successive Iraqi governments for their legitimate rights and have sacrificed too many lives. These issues were always the main obstacles in any past negotiations with Baghdad including the former regime of dictator Saddam.

True, these people who are objecting irrationally to Kurdish legitimate rights are different from the ones under the previous regime, but they are playing on the same tunes. Kurds are very familiar with this type of music coming from the past and that is causing a real concern in Kurdistan.

There are some Kurdish red lines here; embodied in the Kurdish demands they have fought hard for to secure them from ousted regime. They could be summed up as: A democratic federal Iraq, return of Arabized Kurdish land to the bosom of Kurdistan including but not limited to Kirkuk, Peshmarga forces, and natural resources of Kurdistan. All of which have been treated fairly with and resolved in the Iraqi constitution of 2005, that has been voted on by the Iraqi people and ratified by the Iraqi Parliament.

However, constitution has not deterred some Arab ultra-nationalists and Ba’athists and those who hover around that axis of evil from coming out every now and then trying to raise an issue as a pretext to attack Kurdistan and her nascent government.

They must know, as the Prime Minister Mr. Nechirvan Barzani emphasized that any violation of any of those principles constitutes a legal and constitutional ground for Kurds to reconsider the union and perhaps walk away if they do not find acceptance and commitment of the very principle of the voluntary union by other parties. Kurdistan's message to them is: A coercive union was imposed on Kurds for over 80 years. The consequences were dire, and the country still is paying the bill. For 15 years now, Kurdistan has been running successfully its own affairs. If you want Kurdistan to join this union or to remain part of this federal union, the framework endorsed in the constitution is a right milieu to make it work.

Don't try to impose any solutions on Kurdistan. Do not object to the rights taken away from us under previous regime that Kurds fought for and sacrificed too much and for too long. If your only concern truly is separation as you claim, you have Kurdistan Regional Governments’ assurances that there are no such plans as long as the Kurds have the right to choose how to be part of that union. That is the only union that would work, last and prosper.

Friday, September 29, 2006

September 29, 2006

Sunni Arabs, Sadr movement, and Turkmen hold secret meetings
Translated from Awene newspaper

Awene - An informed source told Awene that Sunni Arabs, Sadr movement, and Turkmen have held secret meetings to plan against implementation of article 140. The source said except the meetings, statements from those three groups have indications that they have common framework to stand against implementing the article.

The article 140 in Iraqi constitution calls for normalization of the area that has faced Arabization during Saddam regime, including Kirkuk. After normalizations referendum will be carried out to know whether the people of Kirkuk want to join Kurdistan Region. Recently Ali Mahdi, a Turkmen leader had said, "Even if all the high position (of the city's administration) be given to Turkmen Front (his party), we will not agree Kikuk be annexed to Kurdistan region."

Awene is an independent newspaper based in Sulaimania, issued by Awene Company.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

September 19 2006

Insults to the Kurdish people and all Those Who Suffered Under Saddam the Dictator.

By Ardalan Hardi

Last week’s comments by Judge Abdullah al-Amiri in court telling Saddam “You are not a dictator” is a disgrace to the position he was sworn to uphold. The prejudice statement alone should immediately disqualify him from his position.

Mr. Amiri, the dictionary says a judge is a person who makes decisions that determine or settle points at issue and is one capable of making rational, dispassionate, and wise decisions. You have shown that you lack all of these qualities. Without hesitation, you took it upon yourself and declared a tyrant Saddam is not a dictator. This is an insult to all those Kurdish and Shiite witnesses who have testified in your court about the torture they had to endure under the former dictator’s regime. Your assertion dishonours all those families’ that hopelessly wait for another mass grave to be discovered so they can bring closure to their missing love ones.
Mr. Amiri, Webster’s dictionary also defines dictator as one holding complete autocratic control or one ruling absolutely and often oppressively. Under Saddam, Iraq was ruled by force, brutality and oppression. For decades the Saddam Hussein's regime has killed, tortured, raped and terrorized the Iraqi people. Amnesty International reported “The people of Iraq suffered systematic and widespread abuses of their human rights for decades. Mass killings, “disappearances,” systematic use of torture, political imprisonment and forced removal from communities were used by Saddam Hussein’s government in an attempt to wipe out all opposition.”

Human Rights Watch comprehensive report “Genocide in Iraq - The Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds,” originally published in July 1993, details the systematic and deliberate murder of at least 50,000 and possibly as many as 100,000 Kurds. The killings occurred between February and September 1988. “Genocide in Iraq” shows that the Kurdish victims were targeted on the basis of their ethnicity. According to Human Rights Watch, "senior Arab diplomats told the London-based Arabic daily newspaper al-Hayat in October [1991] that Iraqi leaders were privately acknowledging that 250,000 people were killed during the uprisings, with most of the casualties in the south."

It is obvious that you, Mr. Amiri, choose to be oblivious to the evidence and your surroundings. Your honor, if an oppressor like Saddam is not a dictator, who is?

The Iraqi people are in need of an independent and honorable judge. One that has high moral standards and that preserves the integrity of the judicial system – which you do not. Since you were a member of Saddam’s Ba’ath party and served as a prosecuting judge in a criminal court under the former dictator’s regime, I can see why you think the way you do.

You were one of them and you have proven that you still are. You bring disgrace to the black robe you wear, to your profession and to the judicial system you pledged to serve.

It is very apparent you are biased toward the tyrant Saddam and your recent statement most impertinently endorses your affinity to the former dictator and his thugs.

A statement from the Kurdish Halabja center in Sulaymania said “We demand the dismissal of the judge at the high tribunal and the nomination of another competent and neutral judge whose ideas are not polluted by the fascist Ba’ath.”

You, Mr. Amiri, are using the trial of Saddam as a podium to advocate your fascist Arab nationalistic propaganda and ignite the insurgency that continues to plague today’s Iraq. It is time for you to step aside and let justice prevail.

The prosecutors should boycott the trial until the demand for a new judge is met and perhaps they should investigate Mr. Amiri’s background to see if he too should be on trial for his crimes against humanity.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Flag Controversy in Iraq

By Eamad J. Mazouri

For over a week now, there has been a frenzied controversy in Iraq and in the Arab world concerning a decision by the President of Iraqi Kurdistan Region Mr. Massoud Barzani not to allow dictator Saddma’s flag to be flown in Kurdistan. Arabic media selectively and subjectively has taken the issue out of its context and tried unsuccessfully to portray the issue as a step toward separation and declaring an independent Kurdistan. Before delving deeper into the subject, I like to shed some light briefly on the history of flag in general, what it stands for and when and how it changes, using the available resources on the net.
“Brief History of Flag”

“Over 4000 years passed since people first started using flags. Authentic flag design of ancient peoples includes a metal flag from Iran, ca. 3000 BC. The first type of flag was called a vexilloid”. “Vexillology is the scientific study of flags. This word comes from a Latin word which means "guide". First flags or vexilloids were metal or wooden poles with carvings on top. About 2,000 years ago, pieces of fabric or material were added to some vexilloids for decoration. These looked more like the flags we know today.”

“A flag is a piece of colored fabric or material that is used as a symbol, or for sending a signal. Some flags are used only for ecoration. Usually, flags are messages from a person or a group of people.” “People use flags to give others information, such as, who they are. “ “Long ago, knights carried flags into battle because it was hard to know who the knights were when they were dressed up and covered in armor ready for battle! Flags were important because they helped soldiers tell their friends from their enemies in battle.”

“Today, every country in the world has a flag. As governments change, so do their flags. Every state in the United States has a flag, too. Flags are used to give information, signals or stand for special symbols or things. Many organizations or groups like the Girl Scouts or the United Nations have flags. Clubs, sport teams and organizations have their own flags too. The five circles of the Olympic flag represent the coming together of people from five continents in friendly competition. Peace is the message of the olive branches cradling the world in the flag of the United Nations. Some people, like a king or queen, have their very own personal flag. Sometimes it flies over any building or place where they are staying.”

“Flags include symbols that are used to show ideas which would otherwise take many words. Flags are used for wars, as well as for the celebration of special events. On sad occasions, flags are flown at half-mast to honor the dead, and draped over the coffins of national heroes.”
“National flags are not merely symbols of a country. Their colors and designs convey past history and future goals. Flags have powerful connotations. For all the controversy it is interesting to point out that the United States did not even have a standardized flag until 1912!”

History of Iraqi Flag

The flag of Iraq has had four different designs since the establishment of Iraq in 1921.


“The original flag of Iraq was adopted in 1921, when the country was formed. It was a black-white-green horizontal tricolor, with a red trapezoid (some variants have a triangle) extending from the mast side. Two seven-point white stars on the triangle denoted the then 14 provinces of the kingdom. The colors chosen for the new flag were those of the Hashemite leaders of the Arab Revolt who provided the country with its first king, and thus it is very similar to the Flag of Jordan, another Hashemite Kingdom.”


“Following Abdul Karim Qassim's 1958 revolution that deposed the monarchy, in 1959 Iraq adopted a black-white-green vertical tricolor with, in the middle of the white band, a red eight-pointed star with a yellow circle in its center. The yellow color was considered a Kurdish symbol.”


“After the Qassim government was overthrown, a new flag was adopted in July 1963. The new flag had three stripes, of red, white, and black, with three green stars in the white stripe. The green stars were originally placed there for the proposed union with Egypt and Syria (United Arab Republic), which both had flags with two stars in the middle at the time. They would have changed to three if the Union had not fallen apart.”


“On 14 January 1991, the flag was changed again. The meaning of the three stars was changed from their original geographic meaning to representations of the three tenets of the Ba'ath party motto, Wihda, Hurriyah, Ishtirrakiyah (Unity, Freedom, Socialism). Saddam Hussein decided to place the words, Allahu Akbar (God is Great) between the stars. It is said (though unconfirmed) that the words on the flag are in Saddam's own handwriting, and many interpreted the change as an attempt to garner support from the Islamic world in the period immediately preceding the first Gulf War.

Although the flag has not "officially" been changed, this design has been largely replaced by the version with modified script. It is presumed that the modified version of the 1991 design will become the official flag of Iraq upon the creation of a new Iraqi Constitution.”

2004 Flag Controversy “

On 26 April 2004 the Iraq Interim Governing Council announced a new flag for post-Saddam Iraq. The occupied government stated that from around 30 competing entries, it had chosen a design by the distinguished Iraqi artist-cum-architect Rifat al-Chaderchi (aka Rifat Chadirji). The flag was white, with parallel blue-yellow-blue bands across the bottom quarter or third; the blue bands represented the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers, and the yellow represented Iraq's Kurdish minority (the reason for this symbolism was unclear, but the flag of Kurdistan does feature a yellow sun). In the middle of the white field was a large Islamic crescent which was, unusually, depicted in a shade of blue.”

Current Flag Controversy

The recent controversy started when Kurdistan President Mr. Barzani declared officially not to hoist Baathists’ flag in Kurdistan. Instead of that the flag of July 14th to be used until the implementation of article 12 of the permanent Iraqi Constitution of 2005. The reasoning behind that decision was the fact that all of the crimes and atrocities were committed under that same flag not only against Kurdish people alone, but the rest of Iraqi people as well, not to mention the war against Iran, the invasion of Kuwait and bombarding neighboring countries with his deadly rockets.

It was under this flag that Saddam’s regime destroyed more than 4500 Kurdish villages, used chemical weapons on Halabja that killed more than 5000 people all civilians, waged the al-Anfal campaign in Kurdistan where more than 180,000 people killed. It was under this same flag that he waged a genocidal war against Kurdish people and the mass graves are the proof on these heinous atrocities.

All the accusations mentioned by the supporters of Saddams flag are baseless, unsubstantiated and far from the truth. However, as a result the row still is in progress and various contradicting and threatening statements have been issued from a variety of offices and governments regarding this matter that has become the topic of the hour in a heated debate. This dispute has dragged in the highest offices of the federal government in Baghdad and was topped today by intervention of the American ambassador to Iraq Mr. Khalil Zade in a statement that reads: these kinds of actions should not be taken unilaterally, instead the issue needs to be resolved through the constitution and the Iraqi national assembly.

Unfortunately and to the astonishment of the Kurdistan Regional Government, some Arab circles and Arabic media came to defend Saddam’s flag. They started an unfair and unjust campaign against KRG and Kurdish people in an attempt to keep the Baathist flag as the national one. First of all, for those who are defending this flag, it is not clear yet which flag they are defending. Is it the one with Saddam’s own handwriting on it? Or is it the same tri-color 3 star but the expression (God is greater) written with Kufic? Or perhaps a different version of that. These people are requested to tell us which one they consider it national. While they talk so much about the legality and the constitutionality of the Kurdish action, they need to be reminded that the change of 1991 and all the ones that followed were neither official nor legal. Neither the Iraqi government nor the Iraqi parliament had a saying in that or approved it.
It is worth mentioning that the flag in dispute has never been hoisted in Kurdistan since 1991, except a modified version of it in Sulaimania region for a short period of time.

This flag has brought nothing on the Iraqi people in general other than destruction, war, mass-killing, genocide, chemical weapons and mass graves. It is hard to believe that there are some Iraqi people out there who would defend such a flag that symbolizes the deposed regime of dictator Saddam and the tyranny of the Baath party that reduced Iraq to rubbles and surviving Iraqi people to live below minimum living standards of the poorest countries of the world, despite the huge human and natural resources of Iraq.

Undemocratic regimes changes, along with them all the emblems and symbols that represent them. There is no single justification for keeping this flag and hailing it as the national Iraqi flag except for those who are trying to cause obstacles in the way of the progress the new democratic federal Iraq is making towards peace, stability and prosperity. One thing is for sure. These attempts are not serving Iraqi people or their gains of rights and freedoms.
After all, let’s keep in mind that flag as a form or symbol while sacred and sacrosanct, it cannot be more sanctified than the essence it represents or embodies. These are the people themselves, their history, rights, liberties, struggle and heritage. It would be wrong to hail the form as holier than essence as some are trying to do. This issue has been dealt with in democratic societies clearly through constitutional process. In non-democratic societies, of course they are still killing the citizen in the name of patriotism, but the new Iraq is not going to capitulate to those who are still defending Saddam’s regime.

Where as the Iraqi permanent constitution of 2005 is silent when it comes to which flag is considered the national flag, it is clear and straight forward in article 12 that the flag and national anthem along with all the national emblems would be regulated by a law where all Iraqi components are reflected. This article should have been implemented long time ago. The Kurds are still waiting for that day.

One of the basis of accusations against Kurds is that this was a step towards separation and the declaration of independence from Iraq. These people realize they are not telling the truth, but they are trying to deceive others. Kurds have participated aggressively in the formation of the Iraqi government; this includes the elections, the draft of the constitution and the federal government in Baghdad. In fact the Kurds have become the stalwart proponent of a federal Iraq. If they feel today they need to declare their independence, they would come and declare it straight out. Kurds have accepted to join Iraqi Arabs in a voluntary union where all are equal, live in peace, harmony and prosperity regardless of their race, religion or sect. To try to coerce the them into an involuntary union as it has been the case for the last 80 years or imposing certain solutions on Kurds or others not going to serve the purpose of building a new democratic federal Iraq. This might be the recipe for the disintegration of Iraq.

Mr. Barzani’s repeated statements should be more than enough to clear the Kurdish position in this regard. It could be summed up as follows: Kurds are not a minority, but rather a divided nation against its will. Like any other nation and according to every international chapter, covenant and treaty they have the right to determine their own fate, including the right to establish an independent Kurdistan on their own land. However, KRG chose federalism within the framework of a democratic federal Iraq based on a voluntary union as the best solution for the Kurdish problem at present. The justification behind that, is the fact that Kurds under such circumstances would be able to have all their rights short of statehood within Iraq while enjoying the protection of a strong sovereign state.

What Kurds are trying to do is to exercise their regional powers that were granted to them by the constitution within that framework not outside it as some are trying to portray them. The constitution is very clear in distributing these powers. Regrettably, some Arabs until this very minute do not believe in federalism and would try anything to undermine it, or perhaps they don’t fathom the core of federalism, subsequently do not differentiate between federalism and autonomy. Autonomy comes from the top to down. The central government grants the territories certain rights. On the contrary, federalism comes from down –up. Regions enter into a national contract where they give up certain powers to create a federal government, without which there will not be any federal government.

Perhaps, one of the best outcomes of this whole controversy , it might lead to speed up the process of implementing article 12 of the constitution where a new flag and a national anthem would be chosen to really reflect the history, geography, struggle, sacrifices and sufferings of all the people of Iraq without any discrimination as previous national symbols were about.


Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Iyad Alawi supports Kurdish President in removal of Baath’s flag

By Ardalan Hardi

The decision by President Massoud Barzani to ban the Baath’s flag in the Kurdistan Regional Government has been criticized by some Arab politicians as a move toward independence. These politicians choose to overlook all of the crimes that were committed against the Kurdish people under that so called Iraqi flag. To the Kurdish people, the Baath’s flag is a reminder of Anfal and mass graves. It has always and will continue to be associated with Saddam’s thugs and their crimes against innocent Kurdish civilians. Furthermore, the Baath’s flag has not been hoisted in Kurdistan since Kurdistan’s liberation in 1992.

Those who fuel the fire by suggesting that the leader of the Kurdish region threatened secession are the same people who stood by and watched silently as genocide of the Kurds was being committed by Saddam’s thugs. Most are the same Sunni Arabs that recently insisted that Saddam Hussein must be freed and the charges against him and his co-defendants be dropped so he could reclaim the presidency. They will do and say anything to destroy the recent Kurdish political gains. The reality is that while more than 98 percent of the Kurdish population has voted for independent Kurdistan, the Kurdish leaders have insisted on remaining a part of Iraq.
Yesterday Iyad Alawi, the leader of the Iraqi National Accord (INA), also joined President Barazini in support of removal of Baath’s flag reported Awene, the independent Kurdish newspaper from Sulaymania. Alawi asked all political parties in Iraq to understand and sympathize with the removal of Baath’s flag in Kurdish autonyms region. He also requested the Iraqi parliament take on the removal of the Baath’s flag urgently and discuss a potential new design that would represents all Iraqis.

Article 12: of the Iraqi constitution states “The flag, national anthem, and emblem of Iraq shall be fixed by law in a way that represents the components of the Iraqi people”.

No Kurd should be forced to live under a flag that is associated with thugs of the Anfal campaign (the Kurdish genocide) and the Iraqi constitution clearly affirms that.

Could the world stand seeing a Nazi flag flying in Germany knowing the barbaric and inhuman crimes that were committed under Hitler’s regime? Of course not!

It is time to put that dark chapter of Iraq’s history behind and move forword and face the real issues that concern everyday people in Iraq – economic concerns and security issues – that are tearing Iraq apart.

These hogwash debates are simply attempts to divert the focus on the real issues that face ordinary people in Basra, Bagdad and Erbil.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Barzani attacks Arab politicians over Iraqi flag


ERBIL (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," Massoud Barzani told members of the Kurdish regional parliament in the northen city of Erbil.

"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 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 Arab-dominated regime.

"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 graves." On May 7, the rival administrations run by the two Kurdish former resistance groups in the cities of Erbil and Suleimaniyah 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 Erbil and Dohuk provinces has never flown the Iraqi flag.
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 swiftly abandoned. 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 Suleimaniyah 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.