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Iraqi Kurdish Lawmakers Approve 6-Month Delay to Kirkuk Referendum

Lawmakers in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region have approved a six-month delay to a referendum on the future status of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

The speaker of the Iraqi Kurdish parliament, Adnan al-Mufti, says lawmakers voted unanimously Wednesday to postpone the referendum to give the United Nations a greater role in preparations.

The U.N. special representative to Iraq, Steffan de Mistura, proposed the delay to allow more time for the world body to resolve disputes between Kirkuk's majority Kurds and minority Arabs and Turkmen.

Much of Iraq's oil wealth lies beneath Kirkuk and ethnic Kurds want it to become part of northern Iraq's Kurdish region. But, Arab and Turkmen residents fear marginalization and want Kirkuk to remain under Baghdad's control.

Iraq's constitution had called for a referendum to be held on Kirkuk's status by the end of this year.

In other news, the Iraqi government says the Cabinet has approved a draft law that offers a general pardon to thousands of detainees in U.S. military and Iraqi custody. Iraqi officials say the draft will boost reconciliation efforts. It still requires parliamentary approval.

U.S. forces are holding 26,000 detainees and Iraqi authorities are holding thousands more. Most of the prisoners are minority Sunnis who are being held without formal charges.

Separately, the U.S. military says gunmen killed two American soldiers and wounded three others Wednesday in an attack in Nineveh province, north of Baghdad.

Also today, the military says coalition forces killed four terrorists and detained one suspect during operations in central Iraq.

In a separate statement, the military said it has positively identified a high-level al-Qaida in Iraq militant, Abu Abdullah, who was killed in a raid last month in Salah ad Din province, north of Baghdad.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.