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Iraqi President Says Kirkuk Will Not Be Bartered

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani
SULAIMANIYA, Iraq (Reuters) -- Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has said the country's Kurdish minority would not give up their bid for control of the disputed oil region of Kirkuk.

Speaking alongside Massoud Barzani, president of the largely autonomous northern Kurdistan region, Talabani, a Kurd, was asked if Kurds would be willing to trade control of ethnically mixed Kirkuk for anything else.

"Article 140 is a constitutional and lawful article. No one can violate the law or constitution...I will never be ready to trade Kirkuk for anything. There will be no bargaining with Kirkuk," he said.

Article 140 of Iraq's 2005 Constitution calls for several steps to address the dispute over Kirkuk, a volatile mix of Kurds, Arabs, and Turkoman, including a referendum.

The United Nations handed the Iraqi government a report last month that it hopes will help end decades of deadlock over Kirkuk, which sits on as much as 4 percent of the world's oil.

The report contained four options to overcome disputes over control of Kirkuk and recommendations on 14 other contested areas in northern Iraq. The options, all of which treat the province as a single unit, were not made public.

Barzani said the Kurdish regional government, increasingly estranged from the Shi'ite Arab-led government in Baghdad, was studying the report and could not yet comment on it.

Tensions are running high in Kirkuk, where Arabs and minority Turkoman and Kurds view one another suspiciously after decades of bloodshed, political maneuvering, and hardship.

Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Arab ousted by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, moved Arabs to the city en masse in order to dilute Kurdish influence. After Kurds gained control of the provincial government in 2003, Kurds have flooded back and Arabs now complain they have tipped the balance too far the other way.

As violence between once-dominant Sunni and majority Shi'ite Arabs subsides, many fear a major threat to Iraq's stability now lies along the line demarcating the Kurdish region from the rest of Iraq.