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-Making Kirkuk politically autonomous but still somewhat reliant on Baghdad for funding. This plan, favored by the Turkomen with political ties to Turkey, also would allow Kirkuk to collect revenue from federally owned North Oil Corp. refineries in the province.
Details of the formulas are still being negotiated. Remaining sticking points include how jobs will be divided among each group, and when, and who can be counted as a legal resident among the 400,000 Kurds who moved to Kirkuk after Saddam's ouster. Arabs and Turkomen call them illegal squatters.
"Ultimately, they need to come together to resolve this issue, because it's not going to get any prettier with time," said Howard Keegan, the State Department's top envoy in Kirkuk.
Smoking Marlboros at his desk at the government building in downtown Kirkuk, Province Council chairman Rizgar Ali said he could accept a special status for Kirkuk -- but still tied to Kurdistan. He accused Arabs and Turkomen of stalling on an agreement.
"You can't go on like this," Ali said. "This kind of thing killed Iraq."
Saeed, the top-ranking Arab in Kirkuk, signaled he could support making Kirkuk autonomous. Anything connecting Kirkuk to Kurdistan would be rejected, however.
"We will resist that by all means, because this will erase our identity," Saeed said.
Ultimately, the dispute may be solved only if Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani personally agree to compromise.
The U.S. has encouraged power-sharing in a country where Shiites dominate in the south, Sunnis in the west and Kurds in the far north. Bitter sectarian fighting and ethnic cleansing have deepened mistrust.
In recent weeks Barzani has alleged that al-Maliki is drifting toward authoritarian rule. Al-Maliki says Iraq's central government is too weak, and that granting provinces too much power risks de-facto partition that would invite foreign meddling.
Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. military leader in Iraq, said in a recent AP interview that "ultimately they have to solve this problem in Baghdad." And in a January visit to Kirkuk, Vice President Joe Biden told local leaders they had a year to show significant success in settling the dispute -- or potentially face it alone.
"The Americans should understand we cannot guarantee there will not be a civil war when they leave," said Turkoman councilman Hassan Toran.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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