Iraq's Kurds to elect parliament on May 19

ARBIL, Iraq Mon Feb 2, 2009 11:40am EST

ARBIL, Iraq (Reuters) - Iraq's semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region will hold elections on May 19 to select a new regional parliament, the speaker of the Kurdish National Assembly said on Monday.

Adnan Mufti, speaking at a news conference with Kurdistan Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, said the Kurdish regional government in the city of Arbil had agreed in principle to hold the parliamentary polls, the first since 2005, in May.

He said a date for elections to select leaders of each of the three provinces that make up the Kurdish region had not yet been fixed. Elections for all but one of the rest of Iraq's 18 provinces were held on Saturday.

Kurds, who were persecuted by former leader Saddam Hussein, were outside Baghdad's control in the 1990s and enjoy autonomy over domestic affairs under the Iraqi constitution enacted after the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam in 2003.

The region is tightly controlled by two major political parties headed by Kurdish President Massoud Barzani and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

A rift has grown over the past year between Kurdish leaders and the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Baghdad as the two sides struggle, sometimes publicly, for control of oil resources and territory, especially the ethnically-mixed oil rich city of Kirkuk.

(Reporting by Shamal Aqrawi in Arbil; Writing by Missy Ryan; Editing by Dominic Evans)

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