A row over a flag is highlighting the second great threat to Iraq’s survival as a unified state.
For not only is the country split between Sunnis and Shi’ites, but there is also an increasingly bitter rift between Arabs and Kurds.
In a highly symbolic move, the Kurdish regional government has banned the use of the Iraqi flag on its public buildings.
The president of Iraq’s Kurdistan told its parliament that the Iraqi flag was a symbol of his people’s past oppression and that Iraqi Kurds would declare independence if they considered it in their interests to do so.
But, for now at least, Massoud Barzani also stressed Kurdistan remains an inseparable part of Iraq.
The move to replace the flag with a Kurdish tricolour is another affirmation of the identify of the Kurds, who live in several countries in the region.
Images of their suffering in Iraq under Saddam Hussein have returned to TV screens worldwide with the opening of a trial in which the former leader stands accused of genocide.
Non-Arab Kurdistan has been autonomous ever since a failed uprising against Saddam in 1991 that led the US and Britain to establish a no-fly zone across the region.
With their own administrations and institutions, the Kurds secured a new victory following the fall of Saddam in 2003. For his elected successor was to be veteran Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani – the first non-Arab to head an Arab state. He has pledged to work for reconciliation between all the nation’s religious and ethnic groups.
Strengthened by their first unified regional government, Iraqi Kurds are now eager to make sure their voice is heard – with the row over the flag a sign not only of any separatist aspirations in the region but also a clear indication that it wants to retain as much autonomy as possible in a federal Iraq.
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