The leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group on Saturday night accused Israel and the US of orchestrating a controversial referendum on support for independence in Iraq’s Kurdistan, and warned it could lead to the dividing of several countries in the region.
Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech that the referendum held on Monday does not threaten Iraq alone but also Turkey, Syria and Iran, which all have large Kurdish minorities.
Iraqi Kurds overwhelmingly voted for independence in the non-binding, symbolic referendum, which sent regional tensions soaring. Iran, Turkey and Syria have all rejected it.
Nasrallah said the divisions would also reach other countries in the region including Saudi Arabia, a country that he harshly criticized in his speech.
“The responsibility of the Kurds, Iraqi people and concerned counties… is to stand against the beginning of divisions,” he said.
Hezbollah’s patron Iran turned to economic weapons in retaliation for the independence referendum, freezing trade in fuels.
After the autonomous Kurdish region’s “yes” vote for independence, Tehran, fearing it will provoke separatists among its own Kurdish minority, announced a fuel trade ban.
Iran’s state broadcaster said all transport companies and drivers have been ordered to stop carrying fuel products between Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan “until further notice.”
Diesel is one of Iran’s key exports to the oil-rich region, mainly for power plants and vehicles, while the Kurds rely almost exclusively on crude and fuel oil exports to raise revenues.
Northern neighbor Turkey also strongly opposed the vote.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday that Ankara had been saddened to see some Iraqi Kurds celebrating the referendum with Israeli flags.
“This shows one thing, that this administration (in northern Iraq) has a history with (Israel’s intelligence agency) Mossad, they are hand-in-hand together,” Erdogan said.
Fearing, like Iran, that it would inflame separatist aspirations within its own Kurdish population, Ankara has threatened measures including blocking lifeline oil exports from the region via Turkey.
Washington, another critic, said it did not recognize the “unilateral” referendum and urged dialogue and a rejection of the use of force.
“The vote and the results lack legitimacy and we continue to support a united, federal, democratic and prosperous Iraq,” US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday.