Ankara (Reuters/IraqiNews.com) President Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday called on Iraqi Kurds to lower the Kurdish flag raised in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, warning that failure to do so would damage their relations with Turkey.
“We don’t agree with the claim ‘Kirkuk is for the Kurds’ at all. Kirkuk is for the Turkmen, Arabs and Kurds, if they are there. Do not enter into a claim that it’s yours or the price will be heavy. You will harm dialogue with Turkey,” he said.
“Bring that flag down immediately,” he said at a rally in the Black Sea province of Zonguldak.
Kurds have long claimed Kirkuk and its huge oil reserves. They regard the city, just outside their semi-autonomous region in northern Iraq, as their historical capital. Turkey fears territorial gains by some Kurdish groups in Iraq and Syria could fuel Kurdish separatist ambitions inside Turkey.
The provincial council of Kirkuk voted Tuesday for running a referendum on the province’s secession from Iraq and joining the autonomous Kurdistan Region, further heating up a dispute of sovereignty between Baghdad and Erbil.
Iraqi websites said the assembly made another vote turning down an Iraqi parliament decision which had annulled the province’s decision to raise Kurdish flags alongside Iraqi ones above government facilities there.
The flag raising decision last month by governor Najmuddin Karim stirred tensions with the government in Baghdad, which deemed the measure a breach of national unity.