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Iraq government rebukes Kurds over flags

Written by: Staff
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BAGHDAD, Sep 3 (Reuters) Iraq's prime minister issued a stern rebuke to ethnic Kurds today after the autonomous Kurdistan region ordered the national Iraqi flag be replaced by the Kurdish tricolour on government buildings in northern Iraq.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office issued a statement that not only defended the national flag but implied that the Kurds' own banner was illegitimate.

''The Iraqi flag is the only flag that should be raised over any square inch of Iraq,'' read the brief message, which did not refer directly to the controversy.

Maliki is an Arab from the Shi'ite Muslim majority.

Insubstantial though it may be, the symbolism of the dispute exposes an increasingly bitter rift between Arabs and Kurds, the second great threat to Iraq's survival as a state after the growing sectarian conflict between Arab Sunnis and Shi'ites.

Last week, Kurdish officials said the president of the autonomous Kurdistan region, Massoud Barzani, had issued Decree No 60, ordering the lowering at official sites of the red, white and black Iraqi flag, which many Kurds associate with the Arab nationalism and repression of Saddam Hussein's Baath party.

Instead, the red, white and green Kurdish banner with a sun motif at the centre becomes obligatory: ''All government sites that used to raise the Baathist flag must lower it and hoist the flag of Kurdistan in its place,'' the order states.

REUTERS AKJ KN1408

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