Arab-Kurdish rows escalate on election eve

March 2, 2010 at 11:54 AM
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ERBIL, Iraq, March 2 (UPI) -- Simmering tensions between the Arab and Kurdish governments in northern Iraq expose the many fault lines at risk as Iraqis head to the polls Sunday.

Political tensions are high in Iraq as the country nears Election Day. Campaign season is overshadowed by a January decision to ban several influential Sunni leaders from standing for election because of alleged ties to the outlawed Baath Party of Saddam Hussein.

In the north, meanwhile, Kurdish President Massoud Barzani blasted Sunni rival Atheel al-Nujaifi, the provincial governor of Mosul, for a series of arrests that shook up the northern provinces in February.

U.S. forces in January accompanied Nujaifi to a Kurdish-controlled town, only to have the effort backfire in a series of arrests and suspension of joint patrols in the region.

Barzani in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor said Nujaifi would be arrested if he tried to enter Kurdish-controlled areas.

"To us, he is a criminal because he has kidnapped our own people and according to the judicial system there must be an order to arrest him," said the Kurdish president.

The situation in the north is exacerbated by repeated security concerns for the Christian minority community, which Barzani says highlights Nujaifi's neglect.

U.S. military officials have said lingering issues in the north of Iraq are troubling despite years of modest improvements in the security situation.

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