Sunday, September 03, 2006

The country comes first, flags can wait.

I don't know how to describe the hoist-the-flag, don't-hoist-the-flag quarrel between Barzani and Maliki, but words like childish, needless and dangerous come to my mind.

I had been to all three provinces of Kurdistan and in two of them, Duhok and Erbil where Barzani's KDP rules, there wasn't a single Iraqi flag. Only in Sulaymaniya, where Talabani's PUK rules, I saw 2 or 3 flags on some government buildings and those were flags that didn't have the Allah-Akbar added by Saddam, so I don't see a reason for Barzani to be so mad at those few old flags.
Even if he was trying to stand firm at his rule of not allowing "Saddam's" flags in Kurdistan he could've done that without issuing an official order. A phone call to the guys in Sulaymania and the flags would be gone and no one would have noticed! There was absolutely no need to make the case reach the media and embarrass the central government including Talabani who's his partner in Kurdistan.

Most people here understand why Kurds hate the flag and until this recent move no one seriously complained about it not being hoisted in Erbil and Duhok.

In fact Barzani's argument that the flag must not be hoisted in Kurdistan because "Kurds were slaughtered under that flag" is weak, not because the slaughter didn't happen, we all know it did happen, but because all Iraqis suffered and were slaughtered and oppressed under that flag and except for some Islamists who like the Allah-Akbar on the flag or Saddamists and pan-Arab nationalists who like the flag because it's a symbol of their times of power, except for those most Iraqis including myself don't like the flag and want it changed.

On the other hand, PM Maliki's reaction wasn't smart or diplomatic either and instead of feeding the mess-hungry media with tough-worded statements he should've tried to solve the difference with Barzani in private.

In fact the nature of the reaction from Maliki and before that the nature and timing of the action from Barzani are wrong and do not serve Iraq's interests especially when we know that the parliament already plans to put the issue of changing the flag and national anthem on the list of issues to be discussed when the parliament resumes its legislative sessions next Tuesday!
Couldn't Barzani wait till then before he bans the flag? And couldn't Maliki be more diplomatic and say "well, we regret what happened but it’s not a big problem because we understand the Kurdish position and we all intend to find a new flag to replace the old one soon"…?

The behavior of both leaders is unacceptable and even dangerous as it sends a wrong message at a time when the government is supposedly trying to persuade groups and parties to join the reconciliation plan. Now if the "reasonable, responsible and moderate" leaders are acting like this, how can we expect violent and undisciplined groups to believe in the national cause?

I can only hope the two men wise up a little, realize the possible negative outcomes of their quarrel and try to contain it and avoid a needless escalation.

Build the country first and then you can have all the quarrels you want, but secure and build the country first.

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