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Barzani ready for Kirkuk deal

BAGHDAD: The prime minister of Iraq’s Kurdish region said on Tuesday Kurds were willing to share power with Arabs in the city of Kirkuk – a focus of rivalry between ethnic groups, largely because of its considerable oil wealth.

Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said the Kurdish regional government that controls the north was pushing for a solution over the status of Kirkuk but that this did not necessarily have to come in the form of referendums proposed so far.

“In Kirkuk, as Kurds, we are ready for power-sharing,” Barzani said.

“We are pushing for a solution, not especially a referendum. We have asked the UN to be technically involved because the situation is complicated,” he said.

Oil law

“Very soon, about two weeks from now, we will start negotiations to finalise the agreement,” Barzani said.

The two sides will discuss a package of proposals covering the oil law, revenue sharing, the functions of the oil ministry and the national oil company, Barzani added.

“It is important for all of Iraq,” he said.

“Without that law oil companies cannot come into Iraq.”

Barzani said he would also hold talks with the federal government over Baghdad’s decision to halt oil exports to Austria’s OMV and South Korea’s SK Energy after the companies signed oil deals with the Kurdish region.

Baghdad claims the deals were illegal.

“We don’t think they have the right to stop these deals,” Barzani said.

Barzani said that the region was not exporting oil without Baghdad’s consent.

“We are not selling oil to anybody,” he said.

Earlier, the Kurdish region’s top energy official Ashti Hawrami said he hoped Iraq’s parliament would pass the law this year.

Hawrami estimated potential oil reserves in the region at around 45 billion barrels.

Referendum

The Kurdish parliament voted in December for a six-month delay in a proposed referendum, partly to give the United Nations time to come up with proposals for settling the issue.

A referendum had been due by the end of 2007 to decide the settlement of multi-ethnic Kirkuk’s fate.

There were fears a referendum could stoke ethnic conflict by delivering power to one side or the other, or lead to disruptive movements of population as groups manoeuvre for influence.

The UN special representative to Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, said in April a peaceful settlement must be found through a political formula and not a hastily organised referendum that could trigger violence.

Kurds, a minority in Iraq as a whole, see Kirkuk as their ancient capital and had led the push for a referendum to establish control.

Arabs encouraged to move to Kirkuk under Saddam Hussein want it to stay under Baghdad’s control.

The dispute could threaten the relative stability in the largely Kurdish north, spared some of the ravages suffered by the rest of the country, but it also resonates beyond Iraqi borders.