Qais al-Khazali, the leader of Iran-backed Iraqi militia group Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, has accused the Kurdistan Regional Government of executing an “Israeli project” by dividing Iraq and warned that his forces will not allow it to happen. "The enemies of Imam Hussein raised the flag of the homosexuals in Erbil at the wishes of the Israelis," he said in a speech to his followers. "Today while we celebrate by raising the banner of Imam Hussein in the south, there are those who raise the banner of his enemies in Erbil," he added. Denouncing the K.R.G.’s plan to hold an independence referendum, Khazali stressed that the project will not succeed. "The second state of Israel will not be obtained as long as Imam Hussein, peace be upon Him, lives in the conscience of every Iraqi." 

Comment: As the Iraqi Kurdistan is set to hold an independence referendum on Monday, Tehran and its Iraqi proxies have warned that the consequences of such a move would be dire. “If tension over the Iraqi Kurdistan’s referendum continues, it will certainly culminate in civil war” Hadi al-Amiri, the head of Iranian-supported Badr Organization, was quoted as saying by Iran’s Fars News Agency. “Unfortunately, when the civil war breaks out, blood will be shed,” he added.

Recently, Iranian leaders and some Iraqi Shiite militia leader have also tried to discredit the Iraqi Kurdistan's move to seek independence as an "Israeli project" to divide Iraq and counter Iran's influence in the region. Israel is the only regional country that has openly supported the K.R.G.'s plan to hold the independence referundum slated for Monday.

Iranian-backed Iraqi militia groups have warned that they would not allow any parts of Nineveh Province to be incorporated into the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. A senior official of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq had earlier threatened violence against the leadership of the Iraqi Kurdistan, according to Fars News Agency. Adnan Faihan, the head of the group’s political office, warned Barzani against “marking the border with blood” and said his militia forces are ready to confront him if the Kurdish leader “tries to impose his will on disputed regions.”

Iranian leaders have also cautioned that the referendum vote would thrust Iraq back to anarchy and chaos. “Disintegration of Iraq would mark the beginning of widespread insecurity not only in Iraq, but in the entire region… We oppose such a referendum and call on the Kurdish leaders to halt that plan,” Secretary of Iran’s Expediency Council Mohsen Rezaei warned during a recent trip to Baghdad. The former chief commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.) also accused K.R.G. leaders of playing a “dangerous game” and pursuing “personal motives” rather than national interest.

Iranian leaders fear that the Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence may undermine Iran’s long-term strategic interests in Iraq. In April, Major General Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.)'s elite Quds Force, reportedly traveled to the Iraqi Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah to convince Iraqi Kurdish leaders not to hold the referendum. The Iranian general, according to Asharq al-Awsat, held meetings with leaders of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (P.U.K.), which is headed by Jalal Talabani, and urged them against reaching an agreement over the referendum with President Masoud Barzani, who is also the head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (K.D.P.). Other Iranian leaders have also publicly voiced opposition to the referendum plan.

Tehran is also concerned that such a move might trigger calls for autonomy among its own Kurdish population. Militant and separatist groups have waged a low-intensity insurgency against the Iranian state for decades. Iranian Kurds – estimated about eight million – have long complained about state-sanctioned discrimination and economic and political marginalization. The Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran – a militant group based in the Iraqi Kurdistan – has resumed militancy and occasionally launches attacks against the Iranian security forces.

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