WASHINGTON, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Protests in Iraq and across the Arab world show the need to resolve long-standing disputes between Arabs and Kurds in northern Iraq before they trigger conflict, the United Nations’ envoy in Iraq said on Tuesday.
Iraq, including its northern Kurdish region, has been hit by growing protests inspired by anti-government uprisings across the Arab world.
While Iraqi demonstrators mostly have not called for the ouster of the elected government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, installed just two months ago, they have demanded that local officials step down.
“In my mind, these manifestations (protests) show how important it is to take away sources of potential unrest in the future,” Ad Melkert told Reuters in Washington, where he has been meeting White House and congressional officials.
Melkert said the United Nations was working with officials in Baghdad and Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region to try to set an agenda for addressing differences, including disputes over oil revenue-sharing and the future of the city of Kirkuk, which lies in the center of an oil-rich part of Iraq.
“As long as these issues are lurking and are unresolved, they at any moment in time can just be the trigger for conflict and polarization,” he said. “And what we see today on the streets just shows that this can happen overnight, and you should try to prevent that.”
Melkert is the U.N. secretary-general’s special representative in Iraq.
Sulaimaniya, in the Kurdish region, has turned into a militarized city in recent days as thousands of people rallied against corruption and the local government. [ID:nLDE71L21I]
Three people have died and more than have been 100 wounded in clashes between protesters and militia forces linked to the two ruling parties of the region. Demonstrations also have taken place in Basra, Falluja, Kirkuk and other cities.
Melkert said he hoped the new government would “really start to govern” as Iraq struggles to establish democratic institutions nearly eight years after a U.S.-led invasion toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.
Resolving disputes between Baghdad and the Iraqi Kurdish region was also important in view of the scheduled withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq later this year, Melkert said. (Editing by Eric Walsh)