Kurdish Peshmerga fighters take positions in the Gwer district, south of Arbil, the capital of the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq
Kurdish Peshmerga fighters take positions in the Gwer district, south of Arbil, the capital of the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq © Safin Hamed - AFP/File
Kurdish Peshmerga fighters take positions in the Gwer district, south of Arbil, the capital of the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq
AFP
Last updated: October 24, 2014

Iraq Kurds to send up to 200 fighters to Syria next week

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Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region will next week send up to 200 fighters to aid the defenders of the embattled Syrian border town of Kobane, an official announced Friday, drawing objections from some lawmakers.

The town on the Turkish border has become a crucial battleground in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group, which overran large parts of Iraq in June and also holds significant territory in Syria.

Backed by air strikes from a US-led coalition, Kurdish fighters have been defending Kobane against a fierce IS offensive for more than a month.

"The forces that will be sent are support forces and their number will not exceed 200 fighters," Halgord Hekmat, spokesman for the Kurdish ministry responsible for the peshmerga, told AFP.

"We are not able to specify the day but it will definitely be during the next week," he added.

The peshmerga fighters will be armed with automatic weapons, mortars and rocket launchers, Hekmat said, declining to specify what route they would take.

They will likely pass through Turkey, which said this week it would allow peshmerga to do so to relieve the town's defenders.

The deployment, which comes at a time when Kurdish forces are still engaged in heavy fighting against IS militants in Iraq, stretches the bounds of regional autonomy and has drawn flak from some federal lawmakers.

MP Samira al-Mussawi, a member of the national parliament's foreign relations committee, said it is "illegal and unconstitutional."

They are "guards for the (Kurdish) region," she told AFP.

MP Alia Nsayif said in an email that the deployment violates several articles of Iraq's constitution.

She cited Article 78, which names the prime minister as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and Article 110, which outlines powers reserved for the central government, including formulating foreign and national security policy.

Nsayif expressed surprise at "the peshmerga forces focusing on defending the Syrian town of Kobane instead of focusing on defending Tal Afar and Sinjar and other Iraqi towns."

But a Kurdish member of parliament defended the deployment as justified.

"Terrorism is a global issue, and it is up to all forces that are working for the sake of liberty and democratic life... to take part in fighting terrorism," Shirko Mohammed told AFP.

"For us, it is a humanitarian matter -- there are people besieged by barbaric forces and it is up to all communities and people to defend."

He added that the Kurdish parliamentary alliance had twice read a statement on the matter in parliament, which had raised no objections.

MP Hakim al-Zamili, a senior leader of one of the country's largest Shiite militias, said the deployment is "natural" and "in the interest of the Iraqi people, because the Iraqi and Syrian arenas are one."

If IS "achieved victory, it would move to Iraq and will kill" Iraqis, Zamili said.

Neither Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi or other senior officials have commented on the matter.

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