Iraq Speaker Pushes Arab-Kurd Accord in Kurdistan

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Iraq's parliament speaker pushed on Thursday to ease Arab-Kurd tensions on a visit to Iraqi Kurdistan, as the two sides traded accusations about reinforcements being sent to disputed areas.

Tensions are high in areas of northern Iraq that the autonomous Kurdish region wants to incorporate over the strong objections of Baghdad, and there is a threat of conflict between Arab and Kurdish security forces.

The speaker's office said Osama al-Nujaifi met Kurdistan president Massud Barzani on the second day of an initiative aimed at reducing tensions between Iraqi Kurds and Baghdad, which he warned could lead to civil war.

Barzani was responsive to the idea of calming the situation and dealing with it "in a constitutional way and opening the door of negotiation between the military commands in the border areas," as well as "finding fundamental solutions to all the problems," a statement on his website said.

The meeting took place in a "positive atmosphere," Nujaifi's office said, adding that the speaker hoped to return to Baghdad on Thursday night for talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Federal and Kurdish military officials have traded accusations that the other side had sent military reinforcements to the disputed territory in the country's north.

A statement from Maliki's Office of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces alleged that Kurdish security forces, known as peshmerga, were reinforcing the Khanaqin area, armed with artillery and rocket launchers.

Jabbar Yawar, a top peshmerga official, denied that and said additional Iraqi forces had been sent to Diyala and Kirkuk provinces earlier in the month.

Barzani has said peshmerga clashed with Iraqi forces in the disputed town of Tuz Khurmatu on Friday, and ordered them "to exercise restraint in the face of provocations, but also to be in a highest state of readiness to face any aggressive acts."

Maliki's office later warned the peshmerga "not to change their positions or approach the (federal) armed forces."

The unresolved row over territory poses the biggest threat to Iraq's long-term stability, diplomats and officials say.

Relations between the two sides are also marred by disputes over oil and power-sharing.

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