Iraq's prime minister said Thursday that Baghdad and Kurdish officials reached a preliminary agreement to allow inhabitants of disputed northern areas to oversee their own security.
Nouri al-Maliki told reporters in Baghdad that the central government and leaders from the Kurdish autonomous region agreed that local ethnic and sectarian groups will form units to replace Iraqi and Kurdish forces currently in the disputed areas, which are claimed by Arabs, Turkomen and Kurds.
Tensions between Baghdad and the Kurds have increased over the last two months, following a decision by al-Maliki to form a new military command to oversee security forces bordering the self-ruled Kurdish region. The move was deemed unconstitutional by the Kurds.
In late November, the two rival governments traded accusations of rushing troops into disputed border regions to assert dominance.
"The talks have taken a big step forward by accepting the proposal to leave the task of protecting the disputed areas to the people living there," al-Maliki said.
Officials in the Kurdistan Regional Government could not be immediately reached for comment.
In Baghdad, Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman described the agreement as "positive", but added that a lot of work was still needed to implement it on ground.
"We hope that both sides will adhere to this agreement. What we need is a hard and sincere effort to reach a permanent solution to the problem of the disputed areas," he said.
Meanwhile, police said gunmen shot dead five policemen after storming a trailer where security personnel were sleeping next to a checkpoint just south of Baghdad.
A doctor in a nearby hospital confirmed the death toll. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to talk to media.
Although violence in Iraq has ebbed, insurgent attacks are still frequent.
Associated Press Writer Sinan Salaheddin and Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this report.