Kirkuk row could turn violent, leaders say

Aug. 11, 2008 at 6:15 PM

BAGHDAD, Aug. 11 (UPI) -- Iraqi Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called for elections in Kirkuk to settle the dispute over regional status as various groups seek violence as a resolution.

Iraqi lawmakers failed to pass a provincial elections law last week over disputes regarding Article 24 of the measure. Article 24 calls for an equitable distribution of power in Kirkuk between Kurds, Arabs and Turkomen. Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution, however, calls for a census to determine jurisdiction.

"The solution to Kirkuk's problem lies in the hands of its citizens, who must determine how to run their city with their votes," Sistani said in a statement obtained by the Iranian Press TV news channel.

His comments come amid cries from various rival factions threatening to wage armed conflict over the oil-rich province.

Sunni forces oppose any unilateral Kurdish moves, while Kurdish officials are increasingly moving toward complete autonomy on several matters, threatening the stability of the once peaceful region, the Iraqi daily newspaper Azzaman said.

Kurdish officials have dispatched the Peshmerga force in anticipation of a conflict, while Sunni tribal elders threatened "catastrophic consequences" should Kurdish officials annex Kirkuk.

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