Iraq’s top Shiite cleric said he opposed the secession of the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq in the religious leader’s first comments on the Kurds’ decision to back independence in a referendum.
Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, a reclusive octogenarian, is revered by millions of Shiite Muslims in Iraq and abroad.
Al Sistani believes that “any attempt to make secession an accomplished fact will lead to undesired consequences affecting Kurdish citizens”, his representative Ahmad Al Safi said.
It is the first direct political sermon by Al Sistani since early 2016, in a clear sign that he attaches importance to the crisis pitting the KRG against Baghdad and Iraq’s neighbours.
Meanwhile, foreigners scrambled to leave Iraqi Kurdistan Friday hours before the start of a flight ban imposed by Baghdad in retaliation for the independence referendum that has sent regional tensions soaring.
Iraq’s central government had ordered a halt to all international flights to and from the autonomous region from 6:00 pm (1500 GMT) Friday.
Iraqi Kurdistan’s transport ministry said it had sent a letter to Baghdad asking to “open negotiations” on flights but was still awaiting a reply.