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Can the U.N. avert a Kirkuk border war?

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In addition to Kirkuk, the UNAMI plan is looking at other disputed areas spanning an arc that is almost 300 miles long and stretches from the city of Sinjar in northwest Iraq to Diyala Province in the east.

"We do put it as a very top priority of ours to deal with this issue ... now we believe that UNAMI's efforts have the best chance of getting at a stable and secure resolution to this issue," says a US diplomat in Baghdad who spoke on condition of anonymity due to embassy requirements.

According to the US diplomat and Muhammad Ihsan, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) minister on the national committee dealing with Kirkuk, UNAMI's efforts involve suggestions for resolving the fate of at least four contested areas in the hopes of leading to a greater compromise on Kirkuk Province territories on which each ethnic group has claims. Its plan is expected to be announced in mid-May.

"If you start with some of the areas that are less controversial ... you might have some processes in place that have buy-in from all the sides involved, so you have an easier way of getting at ultimate resolution on the boundaries," says the US diplomat, adding that UNAMI's proposed solutions look at how commerce and the sharing of water resources would be affected in the process of border resolution.

"We are looking for ways to compromise. Some areas are soft, some areas are hard," says Mr. Ihsan, using the terms "soft" in English to describe the areas that are overwhelmingly made up of one of the three ethnic groups and "hard" being the more mixed and contentious areas.

He says the KRG would be open to working out within the UNAMI-administered process "power-sharing formulas" in places where Kurds are present but do not make up the majority.

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