September 1, 2006

Iraq - Replacement of Iraqi flag with Kurdish flag

Mas'ud Barzani and the author in Salah Ad-Din, Iraq

The president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Mas'ud Barzani, ordered that the Iraqi national flag be replaced by the Kurdistan flag in the autonomous region of northern Iraq. This order comes at a time when increasing sectarian violence has raised the specter of a civil war.

Sectarian violence between Sunni and Shi'a Arab Iraqis has been at unprecedented levels since February when Sunni insurgents affiliated with Al-Qa'idah in Iraq (also known as the Az-Zarqawi group) heavily damaged the Al-'Askari mosque in Samarra', believed my many to be the fourth holiest shrine in Shi'a Islam. (See my earlier Attack on Major Shi'a Shrine in Samarra'.)

Iraq's Kurds have always yearned to be independent. In the early to mid-1970's, they waged an unsuccessful rebellion against the Iraqi government. They were supported in this rebellion by Iran and the United States (at the request of Iran). In the early 1980's, Saddam Husayn agreed to the formation of the Kurdish Autonomous Region as promised in 1970, but never really allowed it. In 1987 and 1988, Saddam ordered the Iraqi armed forces to attack the Kurds, including chemical weapons attacks, in a campaign known as "the Anfal." Saddam is now on trial for crimes against humanity in this campaign.

The Iraqi constitution allows for the formation of autonomous regions - the Kurds have taken advantage of this provision. The constitution does not allow for secession from the republic, which is what many fear the Kurds are planning. The Sunnis are concerned that an autonomous Kurdish area in the north might control the northern oilfields, while a Shi'a region in the south would control the southern oilfields, leaving the Sunnis with no oil resources.

I am a big supporter of the Kurds, having served with them in northern Iraq in the 1990's as part of the Iraqi opposition. Should Iraq devolve into a civil war, the Kurds will likely try to declare an independent Kurdish state. That will certainly raise problems with neighboring Iran, Turkey and Syria, all of whom have Kurdish populations and have stated they will not tolerate an independent Kurdistan.


The flag of Kurdistan was first introduced by the Kurds in their struggle for independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1920. The sun disk has 21 rays and the number 21 has a primary importance in the native Yazdani religious tradition of the Kurds.