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Iraq's Maliki Makes Rare Visit to Kurdish Area to Ease Tensions

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has made a rare visit to his country's autonomous Kurdish region to try to ease long-running disputes that have threatened national unity.

Mr. Maliki flew to Iraqi Kurdistan's regional capital of Irbil Sunday in his first trip to the autonomous area since 2010. He was greeted warmly at the airport by regional president Masoud Barzani.

The Iraqi prime minister and his Cabinet later held a meeting with Iraqi Kurdistan's prime minister Nechirvan Barzani.

Relations between Mr. Maliki's Baghdad-based central government and Iraqi Kurdistan have been tense for years, with both sides disagreeing about who should control Iraqi oil resources and territories along their internal boundary. No breakthroughs on those issues were expected in Mr. Maliki's talks with Iraqi Kurdish officials.

Iraqi Kurdistan has signed oil exploration contracts with foreign energy companies Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Total in recent years, angering Baghdad, which believes only it should authorize such agreements.

The Kurdish region has been building a pipeline that would allow it to export oil extracted from its territory to neighboring Turkey, bypassing pipelines controlled by Baghdad. The independent pipeline could help Iraqi Kurdistan to reduce its reliance on central government funds for a significant portion of its budget.

Iraqi Kurdish leaders also have long demanded the expansion of their authority to include oil-rich areas of northern Iraq adjacent to the three autonomous Kurdish provinces. Baghdad has resisted those demands.

Mr. Maliki has been under pressure to resolve sectarian tensions in Iraq, where majority Shi'ites and minority Sunnis have been increasingly attacked by militants of the opposing sect in recent months.

In the latest violence, a suicide car bomb struck a security checkpoint in Baghdad's mostly Shi'ite neighborhood of Kadhimiyah early Sunday, killing at least seven people, most of them security personnel. There was no initial claim of responsibility.

Iraqi Sunnis have held months of protests demanding the resignation of Mr. Maliki, a Shi'ite whom they accuse of monopolizing power in the hands of fellow Shi'ites and unfairly targeting Sunni leaders for arrest.

The Iraqi prime minister has been trying to lead a power-sharing government with Sunnis and Kurds for the past three years.

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