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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Iraqi Kurdish president says Erbil is ready for 'no strings' talks with Baghdad 

It came as the central Iraqi government ordered urgent repairs to a disused pipeline from northern oilfields to a Turkish port, a step that could eliminate Baghdad's need to export crude via Iraq’s Kurdish region and further isolate the independence-seeking Kurds

Iraqi Kurdish president Masoud Barzani speaks to reporters during a press conference in Erbil on September 24, 2017, a day before the controversial independence referendum took place. Khalid Mohammed / AP
Iraqi Kurdish president Masoud Barzani speaks to reporters during a press conference in Erbil on September 24, 2017, a day before the controversial independence referendum took place. Khalid Mohammed / AP

The president of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region on Tuesday reiterated his willingness to start talks with Baghdad if no pre-conditions are attached amid the push for Kurdish independence.

Masoud Barzani's Kurdistan Regional Government held a non-binding vote on independence two weeks ago despite strong objections from Baghdad, Ankara and Tehran, enraging leaders in the international community.

In response, Iraq's central government imposed a ban on international flights in and out of the region and threatened to suspend Kurdish representatives from the national parliament, while Turkey and Iran have threatened to close their borders to oil exports.

Also on Tuesday, Iraq's central government ordered urgent repairs to a disused pipeline from northern oilfields to a Turkish port, a step that could eliminate Baghdad's need to export crude via Iraq’s Kurdish region and further isolate the independence-seeking Kurds.

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Meanwhile, Mr Barzani met with Cyril Nann, the German ambassador to Iraq, on Tuesday and addressed the escalating tensions between the two sides.

Mr Nann expressed Germany’s stance on the deterioration of political ties between Erbil and Baghdad and affirmed that the peace and safety of the Kurdistan region remains a priority for Germany.

The German ambassador encouraged Baghdad and Erbil to initiate a peaceful dialogue and resolve outstanding issues that have “stressed the political atmosphere in Iraq”.

On September 25, more than 90 per cent of Kurds taking part in a referendum on Kurdish independence backed the secession from Baghdad. But Iraqi authorities declared the referendum illegal and unconstitutional, while Tehran and Ankara opposed the vote amid fears it might strengthen separatist feelings among their own ethnic Kurdish minorities.

On Sunday, Mr Barzani held talks with the European Union ambassador, Ramon Blecua.

Mr Blecua expressed the EU's willingness to mediate between Erbil and Baghdad and to ease tensions in the region over the referendum.

Tensions between Iraqis Kurdish region and the central government in Baghdad escalated when the two sides accused each other of failing to abide by the terms of an oil revenue sharing deal in 2014. Baghdad withheld budget payments to the Kurdistan region in 2014, ostensibly because the Kurds began selling crude oil independently of the federal government.

Turkey's prime minister, Binali Yildirim, is expected to make an official visit to Baghdad this weekend, where he is scheduled to meet his Iraqi counterpart, Haider Al Abadi, to discuss plans to prevent the Kurds from seeking independence. The meeting comes as Turkish and Iraqi troops have been exercising military drills on the Turkish border with Iraqi Kurdistan.

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