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Split Emerges Between Iraqi Kurds and Shi'ites in Government 


A high-level delegation from the northern Kurdish region of Iraq is due to arrive in Baghdad to hold urgent talks with Shi'ite leaders to avert a collapse of Iraq's government. The political crisis is threatening to add a new layer of instability, as the country prepares to hold a referendum on a controversial draft constitution on October 15.

According to Kurdish National Assembly member, Mahmud Othman, the delegation is being led by members of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the party of Iraq's President Jalal Talabani.

Mr. Othman describes the meeting as a good-faith effort by Kurdish leaders to try to keep their political alliance with Shi'ites from unraveling during a volatile phase in Iraq's political transition.

"What we need now is cooperation between all Iraqis and try to make success of the political process. So, the more we can solve our problems through dialogue, the better," Mr. Othman says.

The meeting has been called on the heels of angry remarks made by President Talabani on Saturday, accusing Iraq's Shi'ite Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari of taking unilateral decisions without consulting his Kurdish allies.

Mr. Talabani further alleges that the government's dominant Shi'ite coalition party, called the United Alliance, has made no effort to keep the promises it made to the Kurds in a joint agreement the two sides signed three months before the interim government took power on June 30.

A key promise in that agreement reportedly called for the government to begin tackling the issue of resettling Kurds in the northern oil-rich city of Kirkuk in the face of overwhelming Sunni-Arab opposition.

During the rule of Saddam Hussein, tens of thousands of Kurds were forced out of the Kirkuk area and replaced with Sunni Arabs. The Kurds, who want to make Kirkuk a part of their semi-autonomous Kurdish region in the north, say Shi'ites in government have done nothing to help the Kurds push their case forward.

Prime Minister Jaafari has not commented on the Kurdish accusations. But Mr. Othman, the Kurdish assembly member, says that Kurdish leaders are serious in their threat to pull out of the interim government, if Mr. Jaafari and other Shi'ite leaders refuse to play by the rules.

"They have said (if) they cannot solve this problem, then they will try to activate Article Six of the agreement between both sides. Article Six says if problems could not be solved through dialogue and through meetings, then one side may withdraw from the Cabinet," Mr. Othman says.

Iraq's interim government was formed after January elections gave Iraq's Shi'ite Muslims the lion's share of seats in the National Assembly. But Shi'ites failed to win an outright majority and needed Kurdish support to form the Cabinet.

The collapse of the government would cause more political turmoil at a time of great uncertainty for the country.

Iraqis are due to head to the polls on October 15th to vote on a new draft constitution, largely written and supported by Shi'ites and Kurds. But the country's Sunni-Arab minority firmly opposes the charter, fearing it gives too much power to the two communities.

Sunni Arabs make up the bulk of Iraq's two year-old insurgency and the likely passage of the constitution has prompted concerns that the insurgency could strengthen.

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