Iraqi Kurdistan’s leader threatened on Saturday to intervene to protect Kurds in neighboring Syria, who are caught up in fighting between Kurdish forces and jihadists.
Masoud Barzani’s remarks came as fighting raged in Syria, which has been racked by civil war for nearly two and a half years.
Syria’s Kurds, who have been marginalized for decades by Damascus, are fighting to ensure that neither forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad nor rebels seeking his overthrow take control of their areas.
Barzani, president of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, called in a statement for an investigation by Iraqi Kurdish political parties into reports of “terrorists” killing Syrian Kurds.
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, Barzani said.
Iraq’s Kurds have a three-province autonomous region in the north with its own armed forces and security apparatus which are widely regarded as better trained than the Iraqi army.
Kurds in Syria make up 10 percent of the population and are mostly concentrated in the north.
Fierce fighting has broken out in recent weeks between Kurdish forces and al-Nusra Front, which is also fighting against Assad, after Syrian Kurds expelled the jihadists from the town of Ras al-Ain on the border with Turkey.