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Iraq’s top Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has voiced opposition to the secession of the northern Kurdistan region from the mainland, warning of the negative repercussions of such “unilateral steps.”
Grand Ayatollah Sistani’s representative Ahmed al-Safi said in a Friday sermon on his behalf in the holy city of Karbala that the senior cleric wants the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) “to return to the constitutional path” pursuing self-determination for the Kurds.
The senior leader also warned against the unfavorable repercussions of separation and division in the Iraqi nation, stressing that this would pave the way for foreign interference in the affairs of the country.
The Kurdish vote “is an attempt to divide Iraq and take its northern part by setting up an independent state,” said his message, adding that all parties should respect the Iraqi constitution.
The “unilateral steps” toward dividing Iraq will lead to internal and external reactions that will have consequences on our “dear Kurdish citizens and could have more dangerous repercussions,” said Grand Ayatollah Sistani.
The cleric also called on the Iraqi government and parliament to preserve the rights of Kurds.
In defiance of Baghdad’s stiff opposition, the KRG held a non-binding referendum on secession from the mainland. Kurdish officials said over 90 percent of the voters said ‘Yes’ to separation from Iraq.
With the exception of Israel, all major regional and international parties have voiced serious concerns over the secessionist move, saying it would compound the problems of the country, which is already busy with counter-terrorism operations against ISIS.
Iraqi Kurdish officials have been harshly criticized for turning a deaf ear to Baghdad’s objections and going ahead with the unconstitutional plebiscite before any negotiations and consultations with the central Iraqi government.
Tensions have been running high between the central Iraqi government and the Kurdish leadership over the vote, which has prompted Baghdad and regional states to take a number of punitive measures against the semi-autonomous region.
From 6:00 p.m. (1500 GMT) on Friday, international flights to and from Iraq’s Kurdistan region were set to stop after Baghdad imposed a ban in retaliation for the region’s unconstitutional plebiscite.
Almost all foreign airlines halted flights to the airports of Erbil, the local capital of the Kurdistan region, and Sulaimaniya, in compliance with a notice the Baghdad government.