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Political factions pressure Kurds

January 14, 2008|Ned Parker | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — Several Shiite and Sunni political factions united Sunday to pressure the Kurds over control of oil and the future of the Iraqi city of Kirkuk, which Kurdistan wishes to annex to its self-ruled region in the north.

The budding front, which includes onetime enemies such as Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr and former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's secular faction, believes Iraq should have a strong central government.

In contrast, the Kurds and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, a major Shiite party, have championed a federal system that would give a limited role to the national government and greater powers to the regions.

Officials from the factions that signed Sunday's statement said they wanted to find a political solution to the status of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, which Kurds wish to annex by referendum. The Iraqi Constitution had called for a referendum to be held by the end of 2007, but that deadline passed and the factions now question whether it is still required.

The groups also protested any contracts signed by provinces or regions with foreign companies to develop oil fields. The regional government in Iraqi Kurdistan has signed such contracts in the last year, ignoring protests from Baghdad.

The factions indicated that the communique did not represent the formation of a new political bloc but did commit them to promoting a strong role for Iraq's national government.

Usama Najafi, a lawmaker with Allawi's party, said at least 120 lawmakers in the 275-member parliament had endorsed the statement.

The communique was signed by representatives of nearly a dozen blocs, including the Turkmen, Yazidi and Christian minorities. The Shiite Islamic Dawa Party and supporters of former Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari also signed the statement, in a move that could create greater stress on parliament's 85-seat leading Shiite coalition, which has already seen two parties defect.

The communique also revealed divisions in the 44-seat Iraqi Accordance Front, the main Sunni bloc, between parties that support and oppose Kurdistan's regional ambitions.

"We are thinking that Kurdish demands have grown larger and larger gradually. . . . Some of those demands are impossible to achieve, and this is a clarification for the Kurds that their demands are too large and irrational. They have to recognize their true size in the political process," said Sheik Walid Kraimawi, a member of the Sadr movement's political committee.

In a twist, the communique brings together both Allawi's faction and the Sadr camp in demanding a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq. When he was prime minister in 2004, Allawi gave the green light for U.S. troops to fight Sadr's Mahdi Army militia.

"A timetable must be defined for the foreign forces to withdraw so that full independence and sovereignty would be achieved," said Najafi, of Allawi's group. "Of course not tomorrow; we are saying a timetable that depends on how the Iraqi forces are being prepared."

Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman said the Kurds were not surprised at the statement and have considered such groups hostile to their goals.

But he cautioned that it was hard to see how their positions would translate into a cohesive bloc.

"It's not a coalition or front," Othman said. "It's just a communique."

Meanwhile, the U.S. military reported Sunday that an American soldier died after a bomb struck his vehicle in northern Iraq.

The attack, which occurred Saturday in Nineveh province, wounded four other U.S. soldiers, the military said.

At least 3,923 American troops have been killed in Iraq since the conflict began in March 2003, according to the independent website


Times staff writers Raheem Salman, Saif Hameed and Caesar Ahmed contributed to this report.

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