August 4, 2008 in Nation/World

Dispute over Kirkuk threatens elections

By Leila Fadel and Sahar Issa McClatchy
 

BAGHDAD – Despite intense U.S. pressure, Iraqi legislators Sunday failed to reach an agreement to solve an increasingly bitter dispute over the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk.

Kirkuk sits on Iraq’s northern oil fields and a fault line between the Sunni Muslim Kurds, who dominate most of northern Iraq, and the Sunni Arabs, who occupy the center of the country. Saddam Hussein forced thousands of Kurds out of the city to make way for more Arabs, but since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the Kurds and their militia, the peshmerga, have driven many Sunni Arabs out of Kirkuk.

The parliament’s inability to resolve the dispute mirrors Iraqi political leaders’ inability to make progress on other fronts, including constitutional amendments and the passage of a law governing the distribution of the country’s oil revenues, despite the recent improvements in security.

The Kirkuk dispute is blocking passage of a law governing provincial elections that originally were scheduled for October. The parliament was to hold a special session Sunday to deal with the disagreement and clear the way for passage of the elections law. However, the lawmakers never met as intense negotiations among party leaders and senior legislators continued.

The parliament passed the provincial elections law earlier this month despite a walkout by Kurdish legislators and their allies. But Iraq’s presidency council immediately vetoed it following criticism from Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker has been heavily involved in negotiations to end the impasse. He attended meetings on Saturday, and late Sunday he met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki; Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan region; and other political heavyweights.

President Bush, meanwhile, called Iraqi Vice President Adil Abdul Mahdi on Sunday and urged all sides to reach an agreement.

Arab and Turkomen legislators voiced frustration at the American pressure, fearing a rapid decision could spark further violence among ethnic groups.


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