A former Iraqi minister accused Israel of using Iraqi Kurdistan as a base to spy on other countries in the region, while threatening to chop off the head and hands of anyone flying an Israeli flag in the country.
Baqir Jabr Al-Zubeidi, who headed Iraq’s transport, finance and interior ministries, was asked about what he alleges is an “Israeli presence” in the autonomous Kurdish region during an interview on Iraqi television last week.
“I saw it, and you saw it. The Zionist flags used to fly in Erbil,” said Jabr, according to a Middle East Media Research Institute translation.
He went on to allege Israel had established a number of offices in Kurdistan as part of a “de facto embassy,” which he said the Kurdistan Regional Government was aware of.
“They had three offices in Erbil, and a secret one in Sulaymaniyah. These were offices of a de facto Israeli embassy, under the guise of an interest section,” Jabr said, alleging Israel is using the facilities to spy on Iraq, Iran and Turkey.
Israel has no formal relations with Iraqi Kurdistan, though the Jewish state was the only country to back the region’s independence referendum in September, which voters overwhelmingly backed.
After the vote, some Kurds were photographed waving Israeli flags during celebrations of the referendum result, prompting neighboring Turkey and Iran to allege Israel was behind the independence bid, charges Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied.
Iraq’s parliament in October outlawed flying Israeli flags in the country in response to the displays in Iraqi Kurdistan, whose independence ambitions are opposed by Baghdad.
“Let’s see anyone fly the Israeli Zionist flag in Baghdad. We will chop off his hand. If he flies it in Basra, we will chop off his head as well as his hand,” said Jabr in the interview.
“We will not allow Israel to fly its flag in our country after it plundered Palestine and Jerusalem,” added Jabr, a former commander of the Iranian-backed Badr Brigades Shiite militia.