MESOP FLASH TODAY : ERDOGAN CONTRA BARZANI ! – Erdogan Warns Iraqi Kurd Ties ‘At Risk’ Over Flag

2017-05-04 –alaraby UK – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday urged the Iraqi Kurdish leadership to remove the Kurdish flag hoisted in the disputed oil-rich Iraqi city of Kirkuk, warning that its strong relations with Ankara were at risk. Provincial councillors in Kirkuk province voted last month to fly the Kurdish regional flag, a move that angered Turkey which warily eyes Kurdish ambitions due to its own large Kurdish minority.

“I certainly find it wrong to fly a second flag in Kirkuk other than the national (Iraqi) flag,” Erdogan told a rally in the Black Sea province of Zonguldak.

“I am calling on the Iraqi Kurdish regional administration — go back from this mistake as soon as possible,” the president said.Turkey enjoys burgeoning trade and energy ties with Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, with its leader Massud Barzani a frequent visitor to Ankara.

Barzani and his faction are seen as opponents of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a deadly insurgency in Turkey since 1984 and still keeps its rear bases in the mountains of northern Iraq. But Ankara says it opposed flying the flag because it does not want any change to the demographic make-up of Kirkuk, which is also home to Turkmens and Arabs as well as a very small number of Christians.

“You would break your relations with Turkey,” Erdogan warned.

“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.”Iraqi Kurds have mooted holding a referendum on Kirkuk’s status, a move that would risk a full blown crisis in relations with Turkey. The United Nations has also warned that the decision to fly the Kurdish flag over the citadel in Kirkuk could inflame tensions.Erdogan and other Turkish leaders regard Kirkuk as part of Turkey’s regional sphere of influence, noting that it was for centuries part of the Ottoman Empire before its defeat in World War One.