November 18, 2012 / 1:58 AM / 7 years ago

Iraqi Kurdish leader says region will defend itself

Kurdish Regional Government President Masoud Barzani speaks during an interview with Reuters in Arbil, about 350 km (220 miles) north of Baghdad November 30, 2011. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari

ARBIL, Iraq (Reuters) - Iraqi Kurdish President Masoud Barzani said on Saturday the region was fully prepared to defend itself, after a skirmish between Iraqi forces and Kurdish troops along their disputed internal border.

Tensions have been building between the autonomous Kurdish region and the central government in Baghdad since the departure of U.S. forces from Iraq in December, which removed a buffer between the two sides.

Relations have been strained further by the formation of a new command center for Iraqi forces to operate in an area over which both Baghdad and the Kurdistan regional government (KRG)claim jurisdiction.

One person died in a shootout on Friday between Iraqi forces and Kurdish troops in Tuz Khurmato, 170 km (100 miles) north of the Iraqi capital.

“The Kurdish region is fully prepared to confront any undesirable occurrence, with the goal of defending our territory and our citizens,” Barzani said in a statement on the Arabic page of the KRG’s website.

“I have asked the Ministry of Peshmerga to take all necessary measures,” Barzani said, referring to the Kurdish region’s troops. He gave no details of what the measures entailed.

The fighting is a dramatic illustration of a broader feud over autonomy, oil and land that risks upsetting Iraq’s uneasy federal union.

A standoff between Iraqi troops and Kurdish forces earlier this year came close to confrontation. Washington intervened and helped avert a potential clash.

Reporting by Isabel Coles; Editing by Alison Williams

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