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Iraqi PM makes rare visit to Kurdish region

Nouri al-Maliki leads cabinet meeting in Erbil in bid to defuse tensions between Kurds and Baghdad government.

Last Modified: 10 Jun 2013 02:52
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Iraq's prime minister has made a rare visit to the country's self-ruled northern Kurdish region in an attempt to mend ties between the Kurds and the central government in Baghdad.

Nouri al-Maliki on Sunday led a landmark cabinet meeting in the city of Erbil, trying to diffuse tensions linked to a multitude of disputes that diplomats warn are among its biggest threats to stability in the country.

No tangible measures were agreed upon at the meeting, but the fact it took place after years of political fighting was taken as a positive sign.

Following the cabinet meeting, Maliki said he and Kurdish regional President Massud Barzani did "not have a magic wand to fix all these problems in one go".

"But it is necessary to have a willingness to solve them," Maliki said during a joint news conference with Barzani.

Baghdad and Erbil have been deadlocked over several issues for years.

Both sides lay claim to a tract of land stretching from Iraq's eastern border with Iran to its western frontier with Syria, and they also disagree over the apportioning of oil revenues and the signing of contracts with foreign energy firms.

Oil deals

The Kurds have signed dozens of oil exploration deals with foreign energy companies despite Baghdad's objections, including US oil majors Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp., and Total SA of France.

The central government does not recognise the Kurdish agreements, which offer more generous terms than its own.

It believes it should manage the country's oil policy and wants all exports to travel through state-run pipelines.

The Kurds are working on a pipeline to ship oil produced in their region into neighbouring Turkey and earlier this year began trucking oil across their northern border, prompting charges of smuggling and threats of lawsuits from Baghdad.

The Iraqi prime minister said the Erbil talks would be followed by further visits by both sides.

Barzani, meanwhile, said the cabinet session marked "an important visit" and described it as a "start for removing all the problems".

The cabinet session was followed by talks between cabinet ministers and Kurdish regional ministers and a direct meeting between al-Maliki and Barzani.

It comes just days after the interior ministry in Baghdad issued a strongly-worded statement calling for Kurdish forces to withdraw from disputed territory, threatening a fragile peace between the two sides' militaries.

The Erbil meeting will be followed by a similar session in the western province of Anbar, a hotspot of anti-government protests, Maliki's spokesman said.

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Source:
Agencies
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