BAGHDAD Nov 26 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)