ARBIL, Iraq, Dec 11 (AFP)
A top Iraqi Kurdish leader on Tuesday said the Kurds want a deal with Washington that would protect their rights as well ensure long term American troops presence in the country.
On his arrival from a visit to Washington, Omar Fatah, deputy prime minister of Iraq's northern Kurdish government, said they want a "strategic agreement with the Americans" similar to the one between Washington and Baghdad signed last month.
That was for a long-term economic and political agreement that would also keep American forces in Iraq beyond 2008.
"We expressed our pleasure about the agreement between Washington and Baghdad," said Fatah, adding that Iraqi Kurds want a similar deal.
"We want an agreement that would see that Kurds are not oppressed again," he said, referring to atrocities committed by the former regime against them.
Fatah said that, during his visit, he also told US leaders that the Kurds were in favour of a long-term American presence in Iraq.
"We told the Americans that Kurdistan does not support early withdrawal of US troops. We want the troops to be present until a democratic and federal Iraq is built," Fatah said.
The Kurdish leader also said Washington urged the regional administration to restrain signing oil deals with foreign companies until Baghdad passed an oil law.
"The Americans told us not to rush in signing oil contracts and said 'we know your situation is bad and need investments but we feel it is better to wait till the Iaqi oil law is passed.'"
However, Fatah said the Kurdish government had the right to sign the contracts, as the revenues generated would be used to reconstruct "thousands of villages destroyed by the former regime."
The Kurdish government is currently engaged in a heated stand-off with Baghdad over the signing of oil deals in the absence of a central oil law.
The regional administration has signed 15 deals with 20 foreign companies to explore and export oil in its territory, angering Baghdad which is yet to pass an oil bill that has been pending in parliament for nearly a year.