BEIRUT (Reuters) - The powerful Lebanese group Hezbollah said on Saturday that an Iraqi Kurdish independence vote marked a first step toward the partition of the Middle East, warning that this would lead to "internal wars" and must be opposed.
Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, head of the Iran-backed group, said events in northern Iraq, where Kurds overwhelmingly voted for independence on Monday, were a threat to the whole region and not just Iraq and neighboring states with Kurdish populations.
"It will open the door to partition, partition, partition," Nasrallah said. He added that "partition means taking the region to internal wars whose end and time frame is known only to God".
Nasrallah noted that his group's arch enemy Israel had come out in support of Kurdish statehood and described the referendum as part of a U.S.-Israeli plot to carve up the region.
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The United States came out in opposition to the vote, along with major European states and neighboring countries Turkey and Iran. The government of Syria, where Kurdish groups have established autonomous regions, also opposed the referendum.
Nasrallah was speaking to supporters on the eve of Ashura, when Shi'ites commemorate the slaying of the Prophet Mohammad's grandson, Imam Hussein, at Kerbala in 680 AD.
Hezbollah, a political and military movement, is a major player in the Syrian conflict, where it has deployed thousands of fighters in support of President Bashar al-Assad.
Hezbollah fighters are currently fighting along with other Iran-backed militias and the Syrian army against Islamic State militants in eastern Syria.
"Daesh is at its end. It is a matter of time in Iraq and Syria," Nasrallah said, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.
He said counter attacks mounted by Islamic State in eastern Syria in the last two days were expected as the group was besieged, adding that it was "incapable of recovering ground".
(Reporting by Laila Bassam and Tom Perry; Editing by Catherine Evans)