The president of Iraqi Kurdistan has vowed to defend the large Kurdish population in neighbouring Syria from Al-Qaeda-linked rebel fighters.
The comments from Massoud Barzani follow weeks of clashes in predominantly Kurdish parts of northeastern Syria between Kurdish forces and Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front, after Syrian Kurds expelled them from the town of Ras al-Ain on the border with Turkey.
The fighting in the oil-rich region has emerged as yet another layer in Syria’s increasingly complex and bloody civil war. Al Nusra is already fighting the Syrian regime of president Bashar al-Assad.
In a statement posted on the Kurdistan Regional Government’s website, Barzani called for a delegation to visit Kurdish areas in Syria to verify the reports that “Al-Qaeda terrorists” are killing Kurds.
If confirmed, then Iraqi Kurdistan “will make use of all its capabilities to defend the Kurdish women, children and citizens in western Kurdistan,” he said in the statement.
‘Threat of terrorism‘
If “it appears that innocent Kurdish citizens and women and children are under threat of death and terrorism, the Iraqi Kurdistan region will … be prepared to defend” them, the statement read.
Barzani, the president of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, called for an investigation by Iraqi Kurdish political parties into reports of “terrorists” killing Syrian Kurds.
Barzani offered no other details about how he would protect Syria’s Kurds.
Syria’s Kurds, marginalised by Damascus for decades, have walked a fine line since the conflict began, trying to avoid antagonising forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad or rebels fighting to overthrow him.
Iraq’s Kurds have a three-province autonomous region in the north with their own armed forces and security apparatus, which are widely regarded as better trained than the Iraqi army.
According to the United Nations, the region hosts more than 155,000 registered Syrian refugees, most of whom are Kurds.