(Reuters) – Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Sunday a referendum on the independence of Iraq’s Kurdish region would lead to a “catastrophic” break up of the country, which is facing an onslaught by Sunni Islamist militants.
The comments from Sisi, leader of the most populous Arab nation, indicate a growing fear in the region that the division of Iraq could further empower the insurgents who have declared a “caliphate” on land seized in Iraq and neighboring Syria.
“The referendum that the Kurds are asking for now is in reality no more than the start of a catastrophic division of Iraq into smaller rival states,” Egypt’s MENA news agency quoted Sisi as saying during a meeting with local journalists.
The president of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish north, Massoud Barzani, asked the region’s parliament on Thursday to prepare the way for a referendum on independence.
Iraq’s five million Kurds, who have ruled themselves in relative peace since the 1990s, have expanded their territory by up to 40 percent in recent weeks as the Sunni Islamist militants seized vast stretches of western and northern Iraq.