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Sunday, 8 September, 2002, 21:17 GMT 22:17 UK
Iraqi Kurds close ranks
Jalal Talabani  (L) and Massoud Barzani (picture: KurdSat TV)
The leaders met for the first time in nearly two years
Two of the main Kurdish leaders in northern Iraq have signed an agreement to resolve their differences and commit themselves to a democratic Iraq.

Massoud Barzani of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) signed the agreement with Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) when they met in the region's main town, Irbil.

It will have to be a democratic, federal and parliamentary system

Barham Saleh
PUK

A senior PUK official told the BBC that both parties were in full agreement on a democratic future for Iraq and a BBC correspondent says Kurdish unity is seen by the United States as key to any operation against Baghdad.

Sunday's agreement also re-established the parties' joint parliament and paved the way for clearing up any disputes left over from a peace deal brokered by the United States in 1998.

That deal had been aimed at ending a bitter civil war which last nearly five years, leaving about 3,000 people dead.

Iraqi Kurd fighter
Only time will tell if this new attempt at unity can hold
The two parties agreed to form a committee to deal with any outstanding disputes between them.

The BBC's Tabitha Morgan says the move to reconcile the rival Kurdish groups will have been undertaken with the encouragement of the Bush administration.

At a time when the United States is considering how best to remove Saddam Hussein from power, she notes, unity among the Kurds is seen as essential.

Parliament revived

The head of the PUK's administration, Barham Saleh, told the BBC from Washington that the two parties were in "complete agreement" on Iraq's future.

"It [Iraq] will have to be a democratic, federal and parliamentary system," he said.

US warplane returns from mission over northern Iraq
US-led forces have provided the Kurds with a safe haven
They also agreed to "combat terrorism" and revive the joint parliament, which was elected in 1992 but suspended during the subsequent fighting.

The chamber, which is evenly divided between the parties, will reconvene on 4 October.

The party leaders had not met for two years and the agreement came after two days of negotiations in the mountain town of Salahadin, where the KDP has its headquarters.

Mr Talabani had just returned from a visit to the US for talks with President George W Bush.

Northern Iraq has been out of Baghdad's control since the Gulf War in 1991, enjoying the protection of an air exclusion zone maintained by US and British aircraft.


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22 Jul 02 | Middle East
20 Nov 01 | Middle East
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