Negotiations must begin shortly over finally holding long-delayed provincial elections in the divided flashpoint Iraqi province of Kirkuk, the UN’s envoy to Baghdad said.
UN special representative Ad Melkert called for a conference to be held in Baghdad involving all of the religious and ethnic communities in Kirkuk, which is at the centre of a tract of disputed territory that is claimed by both the central government and Kurdish regional authorities.
US officials have persistently said the unresolved row is one of the biggest threats to Iraq’s future stability.
“I was pleased to see there is clear consensus among the parties for these elections,” Melkert said late Wednesday on a visit to Kirkuk, 240 kilometres (150 miles) north of the Iraqi capital.
“We believe it is time to move from dialogue to negotiations. We are ready to provide advice and help make progress.”
Kirkuk was one of only four provinces that did not hold provincial elections when they last took place nationwide in January 2009. The other three were all of the provinces that make up Iraqi Kurdistan.
Melkert added: “The goal is to bring together all the parties in Baghdad, including the representatives from Kurdistan, and all the communities in Kirkuk, the representatives of all the blocs, to discuss outstanding issues and narrow the gap to achieve political agreement.”
The oil-rich, multi-ethnic and multi-religious province of Kirkuk and its eponymous capital are home to Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen.
Kurdish regional authorities in Arbil have demanded that the province and parts of three others be incorporated into its autonomous area, but that claim has been rejected by the central government in Baghdad.