Iraq's PM Nuri al-Maliki (L) meets Kurdistan regional government PM Nechirvan Barzani in Arbil on June 9, 2013
Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (L) meets with Prime Minister of the Kurdistan regional government, Nechirvan Barzani in the northern Iraqi Kurdish city of Arbil on June 9, 2013. Iraq's cabinet held a landmark meeting in the country's Kurdish region on Sunday to defuse tensions linked to disputes over territory and oil that diplomats warn are among its biggest threats to stability. © Safin Hamed - AFP
Iraq's PM Nuri al-Maliki (L) meets Kurdistan regional government PM Nechirvan Barzani in Arbil on June 9, 2013
AFP
Last updated: June 9, 2013

Iraqi cabinet in Kurdistan to defuse tensions

Iraq's premier led a landmark cabinet meeting in the country's Kurdish region on Sunday to defuse tensions linked to a multitude of disputes that diplomats warn are among its biggest threats to stability.

The long-running rows have provoked sharp exchanges between the two sides, and while no tangible measures were agreed at the meeting, the mere fact that talks took place was seen as a positive sign.

Violence meanwhile has been rising to levels not seen since 2008 as the Shiite-led government has struggled to head off months of protests by Iraq's Sunni minority, which analysts say has given militant groups fuel and room to manoeuvre on the ground.

Following Sunday's cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Nuri al-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 in a joint news conference with Barzani, with whom he has traded harsh words in recent years.

The Iraqi premier said the Arbil 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."

Baghdad and Arbil 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.

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

Maliki's spokesman Ali Mussawi told AFP, that the Arbil meeting would be followed by a cabinet session in the predominantly Sunni Arab western province of Anbar, where anti-government protests have been raging since December.

He did not specify a date.

Iraq's Sunni Arab minority has decried alleged targeting and wrongful arrest by the Shiite-led authorities.

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