KRG official underlines need to avoid any interference in the region’s countries

Iran: KRG’s friend of difficult days

March 12, 2021 - 21:39

TEHRAN – In a provocative move, a controversial stamp was published in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region marking the visit of Pope Francis to Iraq.

The stamp in question raised many eyebrows in the region, causing tensions between the Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and a number of regional countries. 

It has two problems: First, there was no Arabic translation of what was written on the stamp, something that drew criticism from some Iraqi groups as Arabic is the official language of Iraq. Second, the stamp featured a map imagining large swathes of Iranian territories – as well as Turkish ones - as part of the Greater Kurdistan, a clear violation of Iran’s territorial integrity.

The stamp was published to commemorate the recent four-day papal visit to Iraq that included a foray into Erbil, the capital of the Iraqi Kurdistan, on the third day.

Upon his arrival in Erbil, the pope was welcomed by the president and the prime minister of the autonomous region of the Iraqi Kurdistan, as well as civil and religious authorities, according to Vatican News.  He then met with the President of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, Nechirvan Barzani, and the Prime Minister, Masrour Barzani at the Presidential VIP Lounge of the airport.

The visit was widely overshadowed by the stamp controversy. Iran and Turkey strongly objected to the stamp design. 

Saeed Khatibzadeh, spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, said that the stamp runs counter to international regulations.

“It’s obvious that what was publicly published goes against international principles and regulations,” Khatibzadeh was quoted by state news IRNA as saying on Wednesday. “We have expressed our objection to the government of Iraq and demanded the immediate recall and correction of this unfriendly act.”

Turkey also criticized the KRG over the stamp, calling it a “grave mistake” that the Kurdish authorities should “immediately rectify.”

“Certain presumptuous authorities in the KRG dared to abuse the [pope’s visit] to express their unrealistic aspirations against the territorial integrity of Iraq’s neighboring countries. KRG authorities are in the best position to remember the disappointing outcomes of such deceitful aims,” The Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement, according to Al-Monitor.

Following the Iranian and Turkish objections, the KRG sought to distance itself from the controversy by saying that the stamp design was proposed by a number of artists and it was not allowed to be printed. 

KRG spokesman Jotyar Adel told reporters that artists submitted samples of proposed designs to be printed for Pope Francis’ visit to Iraq earlier this month, according to Anadolu Agency. He said none of the models have been approved and noted that “the design that will be approved for printing will be in accordance with the Constitution and the law.”

However, Adel’s explanation did little to soothe concerns in the region, with some experts saying that those behind the stamp may have aimed to undermine the KRG relations with Iran and Turkey. 

Iran has long supported the KRG during difficult times and that disseminating controversial stamps may weaken the autonomous region’s ties with Iran, which has stood by this region during the fight against the Daesh terrorist group. 

The KRG officials have hailed the Iranian support, particularly during the fight against Daesh.

In a January interview with the Tehran Times, Nazem Dabbagh, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) representative to Tehran, said that top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani played an important role in supporting the KRG against Daesh. 

“Martyr Qassem Soleimani did not only help in the framework of consultation, but also in the battlefield. He helped the Iraqi Kurdistan in its combat against terrorism. We are thankful and appreciative for Iran’s advisory presence and its arms aid to eliminate the Daesh threat from Erbil,” Dabbagh said.

In a new interview with the Tehran Times, Dabbagh said the stamp was not published by the KRG, reiterating the position of Adel regarding the stamp. 

He said those behind the stamp aim to undermine the KRG’s relations with some regional countries and secure their interest at the expense of the well-being of the Kurdish people. 

“Those who take advantage of this stamp seek to perpetually make the region insecure, overstate problems, and create tensions between the Kurds and Iran, Turkey and even Iraq in order to exploit the situation. The Kurdistan Regional Government political leadership should understand that,” Dabbagh told the Tehran Times, calling on the KRG to prevent suspicious groups from creating problems and concerns in neighboring countries. 

The KRG representative in Tehran underlined the need to avoid any interference in the internal affairs of the region’s countries, saying that the territorial integrity and prosperity of these countries are important to the KRG. 

According to Dabbagh, Iran and Turkey expressed objection to the Iraqi government over the stamp and these objections are reminiscent of what happened when the KRG held a referendum on seceding from Iraq.

Dabbagh said the Kurdish officials should be more careful not to repeat what happened after the referendum. In Dbbagh’s view, the Kurdish authorities should seek to achieve their rights in accordance with Iraq’s constitution and avoid creating trouble with other countries.

In addition to Iran and Turkey, the stamp controversy also elicited a strong response inside Iraq. The stamp’s map did include at least two Iraqi provinces – Kirkuk and Nineveh - that are not part of the Iraqi Kurdish autonomous region. 

Hatam al-Taei, a spokesman for the Arab Council of Kirkuk, said on Friday that the stamp was of “separatist” nature because it included the governorates of Kirkuk and Nineveh. Al-Taei said Kirkuk should not be considered as part of Kurdistan.

He pointed out that the Kurdistan region is part of the Iraqi state, and that “the process of issuing stamps must be through the Ministry of Transport in the federal government.” The spokesman expressed objection to what he described as “attempts to plunge Kirkuk and Nineveh governorates into regional and international conflicts.”

Also, Niyazi Memar Oglu, a former Iraqi lawmaker and a leader in the Turkman Front, accused the KRG of “promoting such a map for years,” indicating in an interview with a local Iraqi television network that “the publication of the postal stamp was not spontaneous, but rather planned.” He called on the Iraqi parliament to launch an “investigation and not to be silent about this sensitive issue.”

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