BEIRUT

Middle East

PM warns of 'ethnic conflict' in Iraq

Residents gather around the wreckage of a civilian vehicle at the site of a car bomb attack in Kirkuk, some 250 kms (155 miles) north of Baghdad, November 27, 2012, where at least six people were killed and 35 others wounded in a series of car bomb attacks targeted at a Kurdish-dominant area in the ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk. REUTERS/Ako Rasheed

BAGHDAD: Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Saturday warned of the danger of "ethnic conflict" in Iraq, after negotiations aimed at easing Arab-Kurd tensions in the country's north stalled this week.

"If conflict erupts, it would be unfortunate and painful, and it will be an ethnic conflict" that is "not in the interest of Kurds nor Arabs nor Turkmen," Maliki told a news conference in Baghdad.

Talks between federal and Kurdish security officials aimed at easing high tensions between the two sides in northern Iraq broke down over Baghdad's refusal to scrap the Tigris Operations Command, the autonomous Kurdistan region's government said in a statement on Friday.

The establishment of the federal Tigris Operations Command, which covers disputed territory in northern Iraq, has drawn an angry response from Kurdish leaders who want to incorporate much of the area into their region.

Maliki also defended federal troop movements in the north, saying it is the army's right "to be in any part of Iraq."

And he ruled out the redeployment of US forces to help ease the tensions, saying it is "the responsibility of the Iraqi government and the (Kurdistan) region to work to end their problems without the assistance of a third party."

US forces played a coordinating role between Kurdish and Arab forces in disputed territory, forming joint patrols and checkpoints comprised of US soldiers, Iraqi troops, and Kurdish forces.

But US troops withdrew from Iraq last year, removing a buffer to Arab-Kurd tensions.

The dispute over territory in northern Iraq is the biggest threat to the country's long-term stability, diplomats and officials say. Ties between Baghdad and Kurdistan are also marred by disputes over oil and power-sharing.

 

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