MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) - A row between Arabs and Kurds in Iraq's northern province of Nineveh threatens to split the province in two and inflame tensions that could threaten the country's long-term stability.
Kurdish local councilors in a disputed part of Nineveh currently boycotting all contact with its Arab governor Atheel al-Nujaifi vowed on Sunday to form their own splinter council if their disagreement with him fails to be resolved.
They represent 16 out of Nineveh's 37 seats.
The Kurds see parts of majority Arab Nineveh as part of their ancient homeland and want them included in Iraq's semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan. They complain that Nujaifi has marginalized them in the provincial council since he was elected in January.
"If no solution is found, we will be forced to form the Nineveh council to run the 16 administrative units," said Kurdish councilor Derrman Khitari, adding that he would ask the central government to divert part of its Nineveh budget.
Tensions in Mosul, Nineveh's provincial capital, have left it a violent place, even while much of the country enjoys its best security in years. Nineveh is struggling to crush insurgent groups, including al Qaeda.
Kurds refuse to participate in a new Arab-led provincial government and several Kurdish towns vow they will not respect Mosul's new government.
The province remains on edge. The Arab governor has avoided Kurdish-dominated areas because of security fears. Kurds and Arabs have each staged protests in Nineveh.
Provincial polls on January 31 restored Sunni Arabs to power, when Nujaifi's al-Hadba party cleaned up, raising hopes they would ease the resentment that has fueled a violent Sunni Arab insurgency in Nineveh. Sunni Arabs had boycotted the previous provincial polls in 2005, leaving them under-represented.
But since then, the Kurds say Nujaifi has shut them out. The governor is known for his fiery proclamations against Kurds.
Nujaifi told Reuters he would come down hard on any local councilors who attempt to secede.
"Their demand is illegal and the constitution will not endorse it. It violates the provincial council law. If any local council within these areas violates the constitution, we have the authority to dissolve it and form a new one," he warned.
He said the door was still open to dialogue. A delegation of Shi'ite Arab politicians from the movement of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is mediating, but have yet to produce results.
Iraq's government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh urged dialogue.
"This bickering will not serve anyone or lead to stability," he said. "All powers who were elected must be included."
Additional reporting by Mohammed Abbas and Khalid al-Ansary in Baghdad; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Richard Balmforth