Leila Fadel
Washington Post
March 5, 2010

SULAYMANIYAH, IRAQ — Anywhere else in Iraq, a shootout between political rivals that injured three people would have been unremarkable.

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But last month’s brief gun battle in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region sent chills through the three provinces in the north that are held up by U.S. officials as a beacon of stability in a country where politics and violence often intertwine.

The scuffle between forces loyal to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which controls this city, and energetic supporters of a breakaway faction called Change was the most serious in what the latter calls a campaign of intimidation by the ruling power.

The violence underscored the fierce political rivalry developing in a region that until now has managed to speak with one voice in Baghdad. The Kurds in recent years have served as kingmakers in an otherwise fragmented political system, but the new discord raises questions about whether they will be able to continue in that role after parliamentary elections on Sunday. Kurds hold 58 of the 275 seats in the Iraqi parliament, making them a critical constituency for other parties seeking control of the government.

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