Iraq’s prime minister headed north on Sunday to the self-ruled Kurdish region to defuse rising tensions and address a range of disputes that have poisoned relations and threatened to become a new source of conflict for the battered country as US forces increasingly disengage.
The meeting came as six died in bombings in Baghdad and western Iraq.
US officials have warned Arab-Kurdish tensions could jeopardize security gains and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates offered US help to mediate during his visit to Iraq last month in which he traveled to Baghdad and the Kurdish city of Irbil.
Shiite lawmaker Ali al-Adeeb insisted there was no US pressure to hold the meeting but said: “There is a will and a wish to solve all the problems between the region and the central government before the US withdrawal from Iraq.”
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met recently re-elected Kurdistan regional President Massoud Barzani, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and other Kurdish officials on Sunday at the resort town of Dokan. The leaders agreed to establish a committee to solve the outstanding issues.
“The challenges that face the political process require more meetings and cooperation between all Iraqi people,” al-Maliki said on Sunday at a press conference with Barzani and Talabani. “I am very optimistic after this meeting.”
The prime minister, who faces national parliamentary elections on Jan. 16, said last month in Washington that differences between the Kurds and the rest of Iraq were among the most dangerous problems facing his country and that they must be resolved by constitutional means, not by force.
“We discussed the stalled issues and a delegation from the Kurdistan region will visit Baghdad to solve the problems,” Barzani said.
Officials said the meeting was an important goodwill gesture between the two sides, which have been at loggerheads for month.
“It is very important to clear the air and to instill confidence about the situation between Baghdad and the region,” Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh, a Kurd, said on the sidelines. “Both sides reaffirmed their commitment within the constitution to solve all the problems.”
The northern, self-ruled Kurdish region has enjoyed relative calm since the 2003 US invasion that ousted former president Saddam Hussein, but rivalries between Kurds and Arabs have fueled attacks in nearby areas.
Meanwhile, in western Iraq, a bomb ripped through an area packed with sidewalk vendors at an outdoor market, killing at least five people and wounding more than 30 in Haditha, said a police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Haditha, a city on the Euphrates 220km northwest of Baghdad, is in Anbar Province, which has seen a series of bombings recently after a period of relative calm.
In Baghdad itself, a bomb hidden in a plastic bag exploded near a local official’s office, killing one civilian and wounding three other people in the mainly Sunni district of Azamiyah, police said.
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