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Amid Kirkuk flag row, Iraqi PM calls for national unity

PM’s appeal follows provincial council vote to hold referendum on whether Kirkuk should be part of Kurdish region

Amid Kirkuk flag row, Iraqi PM calls for national unity FILE PHOTO

By Haydar Hadi


 Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has declared that political differences should be resolved -- and national unity maintained -- within a “constitutional framework”.

He made the assertion at a Baghdad press conference held late Tuesday to address the recent appearance of the Kurdish regional flag in the northern city of Kirkuk.

The press conference also comes hours after Kirkuk’s provincial council approved proposals to hold a popular referendum on whether the city should be incorporated into northern Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

Notably, the council vote was boycotted by Arab and Turkmen council members.

"Kirkuk’s local administration must comply with the Iraqi constitution and not make unilateral decisions,” al-Abadi said at the press conference.

“I urge Kirkuk’s governor and provincial council to work towards preserving the city’s unity," he said.

Addressing Governor Nahmiddin Karim and Kurdish provincial council members, al-Abadi asked: "Why take such steps when the various components of the city must cooperate in the fight against Daesh?"

Calling for reconciliation and the right of all citizens to live in peace, al-Abadi urged Kurdish council members to refrain from adopting “unilateral decisions” that could threaten national unity.

He went on to assert that Iraq’s neighbors were closely following the flag row in Kirkuk.

"We cannot give outsiders a justification to intervene in our domestic affairs," al-Abadi said. “Parties must work together to settle our internal disputes.”

In reference to ongoing military operations in western Mosul, the prime minister said the Iraqi parliament had documents in its possession proving that the Daesh terrorist group had committed crimes against civilians in the city.

"Resistance against Daesh derives from unity and solidarity between the people of Iraq," he said.

Kirkuk’s provincial council includes 26 Kurdish, nine Turkmen and six Arab members.

Last week, Kurdish council members approved a proposal to allow the Kurdish regional flag to be flown alongside the Iraqi national flag outside public buildings in Kirkuk.

The Iraqi parliament in Baghdad responded by saying that only the Iraqi flag should be hoisted over the city’s public institutions.

During the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Kurdish Peshmerga forces seized Kirkuk, prompting an influx of Kurds into the city.

While Baghdad says Kirkuk is administratively dependent on Iraq’s central government, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan -- an influential political party in the region -- demands the city’s incorporation into the semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

Kirkuk’s population is composed mainly of Arab, Turkmen and Kurdish inhabitants.

*Ali Murat Alhas contributed to this report from Ankara

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