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Middle East
Barzani backs Kurdish referendum
Prominent Iraqi Kurdish leader tells party congress that northern region has right to self-determination.
Last Modified: 11 Dec 2010 13:39 GMT
Barzani, right, was instrumental in forging a compromise between key Iraqi parties in November [AFP]

A prominent Iraqi Kurdish leader has called for the right to self-determination for his region, the AFP news agency says.

Massoud Barzani's remarks on Saturday came as Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq's prime minister-designate, is attempting to form a cabinet, in which Barzani's bloc is expected to obtain several ministerial posts.

Speaking at a congress of his Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Barzani said "the issue of self-determination", which he considered "a right", would be presented to those attending the conference "to be studied and discussed".

Iraq's Kurdistan region remains mired in disputes with central government authorities in Baghdad over land and oil revenues.

The comments mark the first time Barzani has officially presented the issue to the KDP's congress, with the proposal set to be voted on during the party's week-long meeting.

Among those in attendance during Barzani's address were al-Maliki, as well as President Jalal Talabani, a fellow Kurd, Osama al-Nujaifi, the speaker of parliament, and Iyad Allawi, whose Iraqiya bloc won the most seats in Iraq's parliamentary elections in March.

Members attending the congress, the first of its kind since 1999, are to elect around 50 new members to the KDP's top leadership committee.

Al-Maliki, who was awarded the premiership on November 25, has two more weeks in which he must form a cabinet. Iraq has been without a new government since the March polls.

Barzani's KDP is a key member of al-Maliki's governing coalition, and the Kurdish leader played a major role in bringing Iraq's divided political factions together to agree a power-sharing deal last month.

Disputes

Iraq's Kurdish north, made up of three provinces, has its own parliament and exerts control over all areas of policy - except for national defence and foreign affairs.

It is currently in dispute with Iraq's central government in Baghdad over two main issues: a land dispute centred around the ethnically-mixed oil-rich city of Kirkuk and the distribution of revenues from the region's energy reserves.

Arbil claims Kirkuk and parts of three neighbouring provinces, and has attempted signing its own deals with international energy firms without consulting Baghdad, both of which central government authorities contest.

On the subject of Kirkuk, Barzani pointedly told the audience that "when it returns to the region ... we will make Kirkuk an example of coexistance, forgiveness and joint administration, but we cannot bargain on its identity".

The region first attained a modicum of autonomy in 1974, but Barzani's father and then-leader of the KDP, Mulla Mustafa Barzani, returned to war with the Baghdad government instead of accepting limited autonomy.

Kurdistan won greater freedom after the 1991 Gulf War, but Barzani and Talabani, the region's other dominant political leader, remained at loggerheads.

A power-sharing deal was eventually struck between their two blocs and today, Barzani is seen as the dominant part of the pair.

Source:
Agencies
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