An Iraqi vice president warned Sunday that Baghdad would not tolerate the creation of “a second Israel,” after the Jewish state became the only country to support a planned Kurdish independence referendum in northern Iraq.
The leaders of autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan must “call off the [September 25] referendum that is contrary to the constitution and does not serve the general interests of the Iraqi people, not even the particular interests of the Kurds,” said Vice President Nouri al-Maliki.
“We will not allow the creation of a second Israel in the north of Iraq,” Maliki, a Shiite former prime minister, said at a meeting with US Ambassador Douglas Silliman, in a statement released by the vice president’s office.
A country set up on a religious or ethnic base, like the Jewish state established in 1948, would not be acceptable, Maliki said.
He warned that an independence vote would have “dangerous consequences for the security, sovereignty and unity of Iraq,” and called for dialogue between Baghdad and the Kurdish Regional Government in the northern city of Arbil.
As opposed to Muslim countries in the region as well as the United States and Western allies, Israel has come out in apparent support of the referendum.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu backed the Kurds’ aspirations for a state of their own, without specifically referring to the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq.
“While Israel rejects terror in any form, it supports the legitimate efforts of the Kurdish people to attain a state of its own,” a statement from his office said.
An Israeli flag was flown alongside Kurdish flags at a rally in Arbil on Friday in support of the referendum. But the Israeli Embassy in Ankara was evacuated as supporters of an ultra-nationalist party demonstrated outside.
Utku Reyhan, secretary-general of the Homeland Party, said in a press statement that a unilateral independence referendum was a “declaration of war by US imperialism and Israeli Zionism against countries in the region.”
Attempts to establish a Kurdish state, “which our party has been calling ‘Second Israel’ for 30 years,” threatened the territorial integrity of Turkey and Iraq, he charged.
Bearing banners with the slogan “We won’t allow a Second Israel,” the Homeland Party took its protest to the Incirlik Air Base in Adana, southern Turkey, on Saturday and was planning a protest outside the Israeli consulate in Istanbul on Tuesday.
In recent days, Turkish media has been abuzz with reports that Kurdish leader Masoud Barazani has reached a secret deal with Jerusalem to have the descendants of Kurdish Jews in Israel repatriated to Kurdistan after the referendum.
The Jewish presence in Mesopotamia dates back to the Assyrian conquest of the Kingdom of Israel in 722 BCE and the Babylonian conquest of Israel’s southern tribes in 586 BCE.
While a few Kurdish Jews settled in the northern Galilee town of Safed in the 16th century, and more immigrated in the early 19th century, it was not until Israel’s Independence in 1948 that anti-Jewish violence forced almost the entire community to move to the nascent Jewish state.
Much of the Kurdish Jewish community emigrated to Israel in the years following its establishment. Today, nearly 200,000 Jews of Kurdish descent are believed to live in the country, half of them in Jerusalem. Only hundreds remain in Kurdistan.