‘We face a new Iraq’ says Kurdish leader amid insurgent rampage

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The leader of Iraq’s ethnic Kurdish region declared yesterday that “we are facing a new reality and a new Iraq” as the country considers new leadership for its Shi’ite-led government as an immediate step to curb a Sunni insurgent rampage.

The comments by Kurdish president Massoud Barzani came as he met visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is pushing the central government in Baghdad to at least adopt new policies which would give more authority to Iraq’s minority Sunnis and Kurds.

Mr Kerry has repeatedly said that it is up to Iraqis – not the US or other nations – to select their leaders. But he also has noted bitterness and growing impatience among all of Iraq’s major sects and ethnic groups with the government of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki.

Mr Barzani told Mr Kerry that Kurds are seeking “a solution for the crisis that we have witnessed”.

Mr Kerry said at the start of an hour-long private meeting that the Kurdish security forces known as peshmerga have been “really critical” in helping restrain the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis), a Sunni insurgency that has overtaken several key areas in Iraq’s west and north, and is pushing the country towards civil war.

“This is a very critical time for Iraq, and the government formation challenge is the central challenge that we face,” Mr Kerry 
said.

He said Iraqi leaders must “produce the broad-based, inclusive government that all the Iraqis I have talked to are demanding”.

The US believes a new power-sharing agreement in Baghdad would soothe anger directed at the majority Shiite government which has fuelled Isis. Iraq’s population is about 60 per cent Shiite Muslim, whose leaders rose to power with US help after the 2003 fall of former president Saddam Hussein, a Sunni.

Minority Sunnis who enjoyed far more authority and privilege under Saddam than any other sect have long been bitter about the Shi’ite-led government. And Mr Maliki has been personally accused of targeting Sunni leaders he considers his political opponents.

Iraqi Kurds had no love for Saddam, and were allowed to carve out a semi-autonomous region in Iraq’s north to protect themselves from his policies. But Mr Barzani has been feuding with Mr Maliki for years, most recently over the Kurdish regional government’s decision to export oil through Turkey without giving Baghdad its required share of the profits.

The Kurdish region is home to several vast oil fields, which have reaped security and economic stability unmatched across the rest of the Iraq.

Mr Barzani’s support is key to solving the current political crisis, because Kurds represent about 20 per cent of Iraq’s population and usually vote as a unified bloc. That has made Kurds kingmakers in Iraq’s national political process.

Yesterday’s meeting in Irbil, the Kurdish capital, came a day after Mr Kerry travelled to Baghdad to discuss potential options with Sunni and Shi’ite leaders, including Mr Maliki.

Mr Kerry said after the Baghdad meetings that all the leaders agreed to start the process of seating a new government by July 1, that will advance a constitutionally-required timetable for distributing power among Iraq’s political blocs, which are divided by sect and ethnicity.