The Bush administration has sent a team of officials to northern Iraq to try to reconcile rival Kurdish factions which control the region.
Officials here are describing the mission by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Ryan Crocker and his team as part of regular consultations with the Kurdish factions.
But the visit - the first of its kind since February - is attracting close attention amid recent suggestions by the Bush administration that Saddam Hussein's government in Baghdad might become a target in the U.S. war against terrorism.
State Department spokesman Phillip Reeker said Mr. Crocker, a former U.S. ambassador to Lebanon and Syria, would meet leaders of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, which have controlled separate areas of northern Iraq since the end of Gulf War and have intermittently fought each other.
The two factions have asked the United States to mediate between them, and Mr. Reeker said the Crocker mission is the first step in that process. He said the visit is also aimed at demonstrating continued U.S. engagement with the Iraqi opposition and evaluating implementation of the U.N.'s oil-for-food program in the Kurdish region.
The Kurdish parties belong to the London-based Iraqi National Congress, an umbrella opposition group to which the United States has provided financial aid for anti-Saddam television broadcasts and other activities.
But they have opposed the use of their territory in the north for attacks on Iraqi forces.
The Kurdish Democratic Party controls an area along the Turkish border while the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan runs areas close to the Iranian border. Iraqi ground forces are effectively barred from the northern region by a no-fly-zone enforced by U.S. and British aircraft based in Turkey.
Officials here say Mr. Crocker and his team will also meet with Turkish officials as part of their visit to the area.