Middle East

Iraq conflict: Foreign Minister Zebari urges PM to apologise

Soldiers with the Kurdish peshmerga walk at an outpost on the edges of the contested city of Kirkuk on 3 July 2014 in Kirkuk, Iraq. Image copyright AFP
Image caption Kurdish fighters moved into the oil-rich city of Kirkuk last month

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari has urged PM Nouri Maliki to apologise for saying the Kurdish region authorities are sheltering extremists.

In an exclusive BBC interview, Mr Zebari said that unless Mr Maliki withdrew his remarks, Kurds would find it very difficult to work with him.

Kurdish ministers have suspended participation in government in protest.

The row between the autonomous region and the Baghdad authorities threatens to further destabilise the country.

Kurds have seized areas left by Iraq's army as jihadist militants advanced.

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Media captionKurdish Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari: "You cannot work with somebody who calls your terrorists"

Mr Zebari said that relations between the Baghdad government and the Kurds had "never been so poisonous".

He said the disagreements centred on the sharing of oil revenue and the Iraqi annual budget.

Disputes between the ethnic Kurds of northern Iraq and the majority Arabs go back for decades.

The BBC's Mark Doyle in Baghdad says the crisis has rarely been so serious, or dangerous, as now.

A Kurdish announcement that it was actively preparing for a referendum on independence within months came at the height of a separate and massive rebellion by violent Islamists.

Baghdad is furious with the Kurds over the referendum bid, our correspondent says.

On Friday Kurdish peshmerga forces seized control of lucrative disputed oilfields.

On the same day, in the city of Kirkuk, a suicide car bomb blast left 30 people dead.

Maliki 'hysterical'

In a statement on Friday, the Iraqi oil ministry condemned the seizure of oil refineries, adding that they expected Kurdish fighters to "support security forces in confronting terrorist groups rather than using the conditions to raid and occupy oil fields".

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The advance of Isis militants has led to some fuel shortages in Iraq

The Kurdish minority in Iraq managed to establish an autonomous region in the north in 2005 after decades of political and military efforts to seek self-rule.

Kurdish officials, including Kurdistan Region leader Massoud Barzani, say they view independence of areas under Kurdish control as their right.

Tensions came to a head when Prime Minister Maliki said on Wednesday that the Kurdish provincial capital Irbil was a haven for Isis fighters.

Soon after, a spokesman for Massoud Barzani said Mr Maliki "had become hysterical" and urged him to step down.

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Media captionLeader of the Kurdish region of Iraq Massoud Barzani: "The goal of Kurdistan is independence"

'Mass killings'

Separately on Friday, the Iraqi government recalled Iraqi Kurd diplomats based at its UK embassy who were accused of taking part in a demonstration calling for the full secession of Iraqi Kurdistan.

But the diplomats' case symbolises a much more serious dispute, with Iraq's ethnic and religious unity and the very borders of the modern state under threat, our correspondent says.

Meanwhile, activist group Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said that Iraqi security forces and militias affiliated with the government appeared to have executed at least 255 prisoners since 9 June.

"The vast majority of security forces and militias are Shia, while the murdered prisoners were Sunni," HRW said in a statement.

"The mass extrajudicial killings may be evidence of war crimes or crimes against humanity, and appear to be revenge killings for atrocities by Isis," the statement added.

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