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Page last updated at 16:51 GMT, Wednesday, 29 July 2009 17:51 UK

Ruling bloc wins Iraqi Kurd poll

Masood Barzani speaks at a political meeting in Sulaimaniyah on 18 July 2009
Mr Barzani wants a referendum on the status of oil-rich Kirkuk

Iraqi Kurdistan's two-party ruling alliance has retained control of the autonomous region's parliament, taking 57% of the vote in elections.

Masood Barzani was re-elected in the presidential poll with 69.6%, the preliminary results indicate.

He said he hoped the elections would be a "first step to solving issues with Baghdad".

Tension has been high between the Kurds and the central government over the control of oil and disputed territory.

The winning coalition partners are Mr Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), led by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

The reformist Change movement won 23% in Saturday's elections, the preliminary results show.

Analysts say the coalition, led by Noshirwan Mustafa, put up stronger opposition than had been expected.

Alleged irregularities

The Change movement has shaken the establishment with its demand for an end to corruption and elitism.

Robert Gates (right) shakes hands with Masood Barzani at their meeting in Irbil
Robert Gates (right) met Mr Barzani to discuss the disputes with Baghdad

In addition, Services and Reform, a leftist-Islamic group, took 12.8% of the vote.

Analysts say that the strong showing from the new groupings is likely to give Kurdistan its first credible opposition in parliament.

The ruling coalition did particularly poorly in the Suleimaniya area in eastern Kurdistan, where the Change movement made its biggest inroads.

Change alleged there had been systematic voting irregularities in Dahuk province and in Irbil.

On Wednesday it raised the fraud allegations again, and said that it had done much better in the poll than the results showed.

Issues with Baghdad

The KDP-PUK bloc will see their majority cut by more than 20 seats in the 111-member parliament.

There are fears that, once US forces leave Iraq, the Kurdish tensions with Baghdad might escalate into violence.

In particular, the Kurds want control of the oil-producing region of Kirkuk.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates met Mr Barzani in Irbil on Wednesday, after meeting the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Tuesday.

His press secretary Geoff Morrell said Mr Gates had "reminded his hosts that we have all sacrificed too much in blood and treasure to see the gains of the last two years lost to political differences".

Mr Gates, he said, had urged both sides to try to settle their disputes before US forces left Iraq.

Mr Gates was accompanied by Gen Ray Odierno, the top US commander in Iraq. On Tuesday, Gen Odierno called the dispute between the Kurds and the central government the "number one driver of instabilities" in Iraq.

He added that US officials were attempting to mediate between the two sides.



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