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Barzani fuels bases row

BAGHDAD: Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has said that American troops can set up bases in northern Iraq's Kurdish region only if the Shiite-led government in Baghdad gives its approval.

"It is not possible for US troops to stay in Kurdistan without the approval of the central government," he said.

His remarks came after Massud Barzani, president of the northern Kurdish administration of Iraq, said on a visit to Washington that the US military could have bases in the north if Washington and Baghdad failed to sign a security deal.

Barzani has strongly backed the controversial deal, but its signing was delayed after the Iraqi cabinet decided to seek changes in the latest draft of the agreement.

Anti-American Shi'ite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr's group also criticised Barzani over his comments.

The US will give its formal answer to proposed Iraqi amendments to a controversial bilateral security accord in the coming days.

The draft pact says US forces will withdraw from towns and neighbourhoods by the end of June next year and from the whole country by the end of 2011, but has drawn fierce opposition in Iraq on national sovereignty concerns.

The new row over bases was highlighted as a string of bombings killed 10 people and wounded at least 39 others yesterday, including a senior Oil Ministry official.

Six people died when two bombs exploded in Tahariyat square in central Baghdad.

Abdul-Sahib Salman Qutub, a senior undersecretary in the Oil Ministry suffered minor injuries.

Another bomb exploded around noon near a police patrol in west Baghdad, injuring one policeman and a civilian, while another officer died and six others were wounded when their patrol hit a roadside bomb in east Baghdad.

In Baquba, some 60km northeast of the capital, a car bomb exploded in a parking lot killing two policemen and a 10-year-old girl.

Nine others - three of them policemen - were wounded.

In a related development, Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki yesterday pledged to protect the Christian minority, which has faced a spate of attacks last month in Mosul, 360km northwest of Baghdad.

Iraq's parliament voted yesterday to guarantee religious minorities seats on provincial councils to be selected next year, but drew ire from some politicians who said greater safeguards for fragile groups were needed.

The measure, passed by 106 out of 150 lawmakers present, gives six out of 440 provincial council seats nationwide to Christians, Yazidis and other religious and ethnic groups who are a small part of Iraq's 28-million, mainly Muslim, population.

Meanwhile, Iraq has asked again for Tehran's help to return any of the thousands of treasured antiquities smuggled out of Iraq since 2003 which may have ended up in neighbouring Iran.

US forces were widely criticised for failing to prevent the looting of priceless relics from Iraq's national museum.

More than 15,000 artefacts went missing from the museum during the looting, about 6,000 of which have been returned.



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