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Biden: No Iraq Land, Oil Feud Solution Before Poll

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (right) with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden at a joint press conference in Baghdad on September 16.
BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said during a visit to Iraq that disputes over land and oil between minority Kurds and the Arab-led government would not be settled until after national polls in January.

A bitter feud between Baghdad and Iraq's largely autonomous Kurdistan region over oil rights and territorial boundaries is seen as a looming threat to Iraq's fragile stability.

The entrenched row has also held back passage of proposed hydrocarbon legislation that is urgently needed to set down a clear framework for foreign investment in Iraq's oil sector, which boasts the world's third-largest oil reserves but desperately needs foreign cash to boost production.

Biden arrived in Baghdad on September 15 in an effort to urge Iraqi leaders to take advantage of the country's security gains to kick-start its stalled political process.

Biden told reporters traveling with him on September 17 that both the oil law and the row over land were "going to have to wait for a final solution until after the election."

Election Fears

Iraqis are due to go to the polls in January in Iraq's first national election since 2005, one some fear could renew violence just as the worst of the bloodshed unleashed by the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 fades.

U.S. and UN officials have been pressing Iraq's ethnic Kurds, Shi'ite, and Sunni Arab leaders to put aside differences and compromise on oil and other issues, to little avail so far.

Diplomats think Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who is trying to build popularity based on improving security and steps to strengthen the central government, may not want to be seen to be giving too much ground on the Kurdish issue before then.

On the other hand, Maliki might need Kurdish support in parliament to propel his Dawa party to power for a second term.