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US fails to stem Kurdish bloodshed

The intervention of a senior American official has failed to halt an outbreak of inter-Kurdish fighting in northern Iraq, where hopes are now pinned on a US-backed peace conference due to be held in London.

The Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) said fighting continued with increasing Iranian involvement even after Robert Pelletreau, the State Department's Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, called by satellite telephone to warn the KDP leader, Massoud Barzani, and his rival, Jalal Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).

On Friday Washington said it believed Mr Pelletreau's intervention had secured a cease-fire and a promise to attend a new round of peace talks, probably in London, after the worst clashes between the Kurdish rivals since last year. Both sides spoke of hundreds of casualties in six days of fighting.

The KDP rules that part of northern Iraq near the Turkish and Syrian border, while thePUK is strongest in big towns to the east and along the Iranian border. Since the Gulf war, both have been shielded against intervention from Baghdad by Operation Provide Comfort, a small Western air force based in Turkey, but it has not saved the Kurds from themselves.

The KDP said that the outbreak of fighting over the weekend concentrated on a pass leading through the north-eastern mountains known since the days of British colonial involvement in Iraq as the Hamilton Road.