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Top Kurdish leader meets Iraq PM in sign of thawing ties

Massud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), speaks during an electoral rally on September 20, 2018
Massud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), speaks during an electoral rally on September 20, 2018 AFP/File
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Baghdad (AFP)

Prominent Kurdish leader Massud Barzani met with Iraqi premier Adel Abdel Mahdi in Baghdad on Thursday during his first visit to the capital in over two years.

Barzani's visit is seen as another sign of an improvement in relations between Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdistan that deteriorated sharply after the autonomous region held an independence referendum last year.

The prime minister's office announced the meeting just after noon on Thursday, sharing a photograph of Barzani dressed in a dark grey suit instead of his usual Kurdish garb.

Barzani previously served as the Iraqi Kurds' president and now heads the prominent Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which emerged victorious in regional parliamentary elections in September.

Last year's independence vote saw more than 92 percent of Kurds back secession, but the federal government rejected the poll as "illegal," imposed economic penalties and seized the disputed Kirkuk oil fields, halting exports.

But since Abdel Mahdi was appointed premier in October, relations appear to have improved between Baghdad and Kurdish leaders in the regional capital Arbil.

Barzani's favoured candidate Fuad Hussein was appointed Iraq's minister of finance later that month, and the two sides announced a deal last week to resume Kirkuk oil exports.

"It's very important for us to have good, smooth relations between Arbil and Baghdad. We've seen a huge improvement on all levels," Abdel Mahdi told reporters on Wednesday.

According to an Iraqi official with knowledge of the visit, the pair are expected to discuss the lagging government formation process and the Kurdistan region's share of the federal budget.

"An initial agreement has been reached on the budget," the official told AFP.

Iraq's parliament in March passed a budget that saw Kurdistan's slice of the federal budget drop from 17 percent to 12.6 percent.

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