Iraqi forces clash with Kurdish troops, one dead

BAGHDAD Fri Nov 16, 2012 11:24am EST

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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - One person died in clashes between Iraqi forces and troops guarding an office of a Kurdish political party on Friday, deepening tension between the oil-rich region and the central government in Baghdad.

The fighting in Tuz Khurmato, 170 km (105 miles) north of Iraq's capital, highlights strains between the federal government and the Kurdish leadership over autonomy, oil and land that risk upsetting Iraq's uneasy union.

The departure of U.S. forces from the area in December removed a buffer between the two sides. The tension grew further after Iraq's Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki formed a new security command covering the disputed city of Kirkuk.

Kurdish officials took his move as a provocation.

Iraqi police officials said the first shot on Friday was fired by the Kurdish Peshmerga military forces at the local headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in Tuz Khurmatu.

The city lies in a border area over which both sides claim jurisdiction.

"The army and police had an order to search a building belonging to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan ... and when the troops entered, the guards opened fire on them," said Iraqi Lieutenant Colonel Emad al-Bayati, who said he was at the scene.

Four policemen, a soldier and several guards were wounded, Bayati said.

Police and officials said the situation was now under control, but witnesses said the armed stand-off was continuing.

(Reporting by Mustafa Mahmoud in Kirkuk, Ghazwan Hassan in Tikrit; Writing by Suadad al-Salhy; Editing by Isabel Coles and Tom Pfeiffer)

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