CAIRO (AFP) - Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi warned the independence of Iraq's Kurdish region would be "catastrophic" and cause the Middle East to splinter along ethnic and religious lines, newspapers reported on Monday.
A Sunni militant offensive that drove soldiers out of northern Iraq last month has emboldened leaders of the country's three-province Kurdish region to push for an independence referendum.
But Sisi said such a move would be a disaster for the region.
"The referendum currently demanded by Kurds is nothing... but the catastrophic beginning of the division of Iraq into small rival states, starting with a Kurdish state that will grow to include lands in Syria on which Kurds are living," Sisi told Egyptian newspapers.
The move was part of a "terrible plot" that was aimed at "redrawing the region on religious and ethnic grounds," he said in the remarks published on Monday.
The president of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, Massud Barzani, asked its parliament on Thursday to start organising a referendum on the long-held dream of independence.
The Kurdistan region has long been at odds with Iraq's federal government over numerous issues, especially what Kurdish politicians say are delayed and insufficient budget payments to the region this year.
Sisi was sworn in as president of Egypt, the most populous Sunni Arab country, on June 8 after he overwhelmingly won an election riding on a wave of popularity after ousting Islamist leader Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.