Mahmoud Othman, an independent MP in the Kurdistan Alliance, said yesterday [Sept. 25] that the relationship between Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani is strained as a result of Talabaniís opposition to a bid to withdraw confidence from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a move that Barzani supports. Moreover, the relationship was further strained following talks between Talabani and the Movement for Change regarding the regionís constitution.

Othman told Azzaman that differences between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), headed by Talabani, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), headed by Barzani, increased when the former agreed with Nawshirwan Mustafa, leader of the Kurdish opposition Movement for Change, to amend the constitution of the region by reducing the powers of its president. This amendment would result in the president being chosen by leaders of the Kurdish parties and not through direct election as is the case today.

Barzani left Erbil to go to Rome a day before the arrival of Talabani, after having completed medical treatment in Germany. Othman said that one of the contentious issues is the rapprochement between Talabaniís party and Iran, while Barzaniís party is getting closer to Turkey. The two main Kurdish parties are bound by an agreement for strategic alliance.

Nechirvan Barzani, prime minister of the KRG, has received an official invitation to visit Tehran to discuss issues relating to Iraq and the region, according to a source in Iran and another Kurdish source.

Barzaniís party says that Talabaniís agreement with Mustafa ó to adopt a parliamentary system rather than the presidential system currently in place ó took place without his knowledge, despite the strategic agreement between the two parties.

The Kurdish opposition, which has obtained the support of Talabani, says that the parliamentary system rather than the presidential system must be adopted, so that the constitution of the Kurdistan Region will be the same as the Iraqi constitution, whereby the president is chosen in parliament, not through direct elections as is the case in Kurdistan.

Othman had met with Mustafa, who defected from his party after a four-year rift.

Othman ruled out the possibility of Mustafa returning to Talabani's party. He said: ďI expect them to cooperate in the future [despite] their previous disagreements.Ē

He said that the differences between Talabani and Barzani are weakening the negotiating position of the Kurds with Baghdad and affecting the situation inside Kurdistan.

He added that Talabani will return to Baghdad on Friday [Sept. 28] to begin a round of talks with the heads of blocs.

On a separate note, Iraqi Vice President Khudair al-Khuzaie failed to convince United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during their meeting on Tuesday [Sept. 25] evening in New York that his government is not responsible for transferring weapons and insurgents from Iran to Syria.

US sources told Azzaman that the Iraqi vice president, in his meeting with the US secretary of state, defended the Iraqi governmentís position, which denies responsibility or involvement in the smuggling of weapons or militants. The government also denies the presence of Iranian flights to Syria to support President Bashar al-Assad. The sources added that the US side did not seem to be persuaded by Khuzaie.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had requested that Iraq stop all flights by Iranian airlines that cross over Iraq to Syria, since Washington suspects they are carrying weapons to the regime in Damascus.

The US had asked its Iraqi ally in early September to order all Syria-bound flights coming from Iran via its airspace to land for inspection. The request was made after members of the US Senate expressed fears over the transport of weapons to the Syrian regime.

US Vice President Joe Biden recently contacted Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to stress this issue. The US official said that the Iraqi authorities have taken encouraging preliminary steps, and ďwe saw that they stopped a flight from North Korea.Ē