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Turkey’s Erdogan warns Iraqi Kurds flag could strain ties

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned Kurds in Iraq that a recent decision to hoist their flag in the disputed Iraqi city of Kirkuk could threaten Turkey-Kurdistan relations.

According to Press TV, Erdogan said Tuesday “I certainly find it wrong to fly a second flag in Kirkuk other than the national (Iraqi) flag,” adding, “I am calling on the Iraqi Kurdish regional administration, go back from this mistake as soon as possible.”

The provincial council in Kirkuk voted last month to fly Kurdistan’s regional flag alongside the Iraqi flag at a government institution in the city. The move, which came in the absence of Arab and Turkmen members of the council, met huge criticism both inside and outside Iraq. The Iraqi parliament swiftly ratified a bill banning the hoisting of any flag other than Iraq’s national flag. Ankara, which has its own problems with Turkey’s Kurdish population, also condemned the move.

Erdogan said flying the flag would certainly affect the warm trade and energy ties between the autonomous Kurdish region and Turkey.

“You would break your relations with Turkey. We enjoy good relations right now. Do not break them. Take those flags as soon as possible … Otherwise, pardon me but you will have to take a step back from the point we have reached now,” Erdogan said while addressing a rally in the Black Sea Province of Zonguldak.

Kirkuk, a city in northern Iraq and populated by Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens, has remained a thorny issue for Iraq since the Arab country toppled former dictator Saddam Hussein and ushered in a new democratic system in 2003.

Over the years, Kurdish officials have been at odds with Baghdad over the share of oil income from Kirkuk as part of the crude produced in the area passes through pipelines operated by the Kurds.

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