Iraqi forces agree with Kurds to defuse tension

BAGHDAD Mon Nov 26, 2012 12:23pm EST

BAGHDAD Nov 26 (Reuters) - Iraqi military leaders agreed on Monday with commanders from the Kurdistan region to defuse tension and discuss pulling their troops back from an area over which they both claim jurisdiction.

Baghdad and the autonomous Kurdish region last week sent thousands of troops into the oil-rich territories along their contested internal border, raising the stakes in a long-running row over land and oil rights.

Military leaders from both sides met at the Ministry of Defence in Baghdad in the presence of a senior military officer from the United States on Monday.

A statement from the commander in chief of the Iraqi armed forces said the two sides had agreed to "start pacifying the situation and discuss a mechanism to return the forces which were deployed after the crisis to their previous positions".

A spokesman for the Kurdistan regional government said the Kurdish delegation would report back to the political leadership, which would decide what steps to take next.

The Iraqi army and Kurdish troops have previously come close to confrontation only to pull back at the last moment, flexing their muscles but lacking any real appetite for a fight.

Earlier on Monday, Iraqi Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said dialogue was the only solution to the crisis, which had been brewing over the formation of a new command centre for Iraqi forces to operate in the disputed areas.

The second military buildup this year illustrates how far relations between Baghdad's central government, led by Shi'ite Muslim Arabs, and ethnic Kurds have deteriorated, testing Iraq's federal cohesion nearly a year after U.S. troops left.

Washington intervened in August to help end a stand-off between Iraqi troops and Kurdish forces which came close to confrontation along their internal border in another disputed area near the Syrian frontier.

The latest flare-up began a week ago when Iraqi troops went after a fuel smuggler who had taken refuge in the office of a Kurdish political party in one of the disputed areas, igniting a clash with Kurdish Peshmerga fighters. (Reproting by Baghdad bureau; Writing by Isabel Coles; Editing by Alison Williams)

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