By ASSOCIATED PRESS
SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq — Kurdish lawmakers began Saturday to plot their course as Iraq's kingmakers with enough seats to secure a second term for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and press key demands, including a greater say over the oil riches in the country's north.The Kurds, who control a semiautonomous northern enclave, emerged as the pivotal votes after al-Maliki's Shiite-led coalition received a major boost Friday from a powerful Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, who once opposed him. The support pushed al-Maliki close to a majority grip in the 325-seat parliament, but he needs help from other factions to break a nearly seven-month impasse.A Sunni-backed coalition led by a former prime minister, Ayad Allawi, narrowly won March elections, yet without enough clout to control parliament and oust al-Maliki, leaving the country in political limbo.Eventual Kurdish support for al-Maliki is anticipated. But first the Kurds are expected to lobby for their long list of issues, topped by a call for a referendum to decide control of the oil-rich Kirkuk region that is now under Baghdad's sway.A senior Kurdish official said lawmakers from across the Kurds' three northern provinces gathered Saturday for their first strategy session, but no details were immediately available.
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