Senior clerics wade into Iraq-KRG dispute
Iraq's most senior Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, entered Iraq's latest Arab-Kurdish dispute on 5 December, calling for both parties to "stay away from bloody conflicts".
The central Iraqi government's formation of the Tigris (Dijla) Operations Command (TOC) in August, merging the security forces in all areas of Kirkuk, Diyala and Salahaddin provinces, reignited the longstanding dispute between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Latent tensions over the failure to pass a new hydrocarbons law and a dispute over contested territories in Kirkuk, Diyala, and Salahaddin provinces have long been a barrier to relations, and the formation of the TOC exacerbated these concerns. Both sides have reinforced the region in recent weeks, with additional tanks and troops contributing further to an air of hostility.
Rising tensions culminated in clashes in the town of Tuz Khurmatu in Salahaddin province on 16 November, during which a number of civilians were wounded and one killed. Senior figures from both governments subsequently held a series of discussions in a bid to ease tensions, with the Iraqi speaker of parliament, Osama Nujaifi, visiting the capital of Kurdistan, Erbil, on 22 November as part of "an initiative to solve the crisis to prevent the agonies of a civil war".
Although those involved spoke optimistically of the negotiations, attempts to forge an agreement collapsed on 30 November. Similarly, Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki said on 6 December that a preliminary agreement had been reached to allow residents of the disputed regions to oversee their own security; however, the KRG's silence on the matter ensures that doubts remain over the accuracy of this statement.269 of 1027 words
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