A senior Iranian official says a highly controversial referendum on independence of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region is a new US-Israeli plot in the Middle East to partition the country, warning that the Kurds will suffer as a result of the plan.
“After the defeat of Daesh [terrorist group] in Syria and Iraq, Kurdistan’s referendum will result in escalation of tensions and crisis in the region,” Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi, a top military advisor to Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, said on Monday.
Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region kicked off an independence referendum on Monday in the face of strong objections from the central government in Baghdad and urgent calls from the international community to scrap the vote.
The voting stations are dotted across the three provinces of Erbil, Sulaimaniyah and Dohuk that form the Iraqi Kurdistan Region as well as in the disputed bordering zones such as the oil-rich province of Kirkuk.
Initial results are expected to be announced 24 hours after the vote. The non-binding vote on the secession of the semi-autonomous region has irked the central government.
The high-ranking Iranian official added that even if the Kurdish people voted “yes” for the independence of the region, Iraq’s central government, parliament and military forces would not accept the result.
Rahim Safavi emphasized that Iran had expressed its objection to the plebiscite by closing its airspace to all flights to and from the Kurdish region in Iraq.
Keyvan Khosravi, a spokesman for Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), said on Sunday Iran had closed its airspace to all flights to and from the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq at the request of the country's federal government.
“At the request of the central government of Iraq, all flights from Iran to Sulaymaniyah and Erbil airports as well as all flights through our country’s airspace originating in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region have been halted,” Khosravi said.
However, Iran’s Foreign Ministry announced on Monday that the country’s land border with the Iraqi Kurdistan Region remained open despite its independence referendum.
“The land borders between Iran and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq are open and these borders have not been closed,” the ministry said, adding that only air borders between Iran and this region were currently closed.
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani held separate phone calls with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and his Turkish and Russian counterparts, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin respectively, over the past two days to discuss the independence vote.
Rouhani, Abadi, Erdogan and Putin have voiced their opposition to the independence vote, saying that they support Iraq’s territorial integrity and national unity.