Iraqi, Kurdish leaders hold talks on bitter regional dispute
BAGHDAD - Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi met Kurdish regional government counterpart Nechirvan Barzani for the first time on Saturday since the autonomous northern region's failed attempt to secede.
Since Kurdish voters returned a resounding "yes" in a referendum on independence last September 25, the federal government in Baghdad has taken retaliatory measures.
These include an air blockade of international flights to the Kurdish region's two main airports, to remain in effect until the end of February.
Abadi has also sent Iraqi troops to retake areas disputed between Baghdad and Kurdish regional capital Arbil, including oilfields from which the Kurds derived the bulk of their revenue.
After a months-long frosty standoff, the two sides are now talking again and Kurdish officials including a minister have visited Baghdad.
On Saturday Barzani, accompanied by his deputy premier and the chief of staff of the Kurds' former president Massud Barzani, "discussed the political and security situation and ways of settling disputes" with Abadi, the Iraqi premier's office said.
Abadi had strongly opposed the Kurdish referendum, insisting on Iraqi unity and government control of airports and border posts in Kurdistan.
Baghdad wants to regain control of the area's three border posts between Iraq and Iran, as well as Fishkhabur on the borders of Iraq, Syria and Turkey, through which Iraqi oil flows to the Turkish port of Ceyhan.
Later on Saturday, Barzani will visit Iran, which also opposed the independence referendum given its own Kurdish minority.