Iraqi Kurdistan votes to send fighters to Kobane

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The KRG votes to send fighters to Kobane, the semi-autonomous region's first military foray into Syria

Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters patrol against IS in Iraq (AFP)
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Friday 13 February 2015 2:45 UTC
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Iraqi Kurdistan’s regional government has approved a plan to send fighters to Kobane to relieve fellow Kurds under attack in the Syrian town by Islamic State militants.

On Monday, Turkey had announced that it would allow Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters to cross into Kobane, but questions were raised when reports emerged that no reinforcements were seen crossing through.

Kurdistan Regional Government officials said on Wednesday that, while Turkey had agreed to the move, they were waiting on a parliamentary vote, scheduled for Wednesday, before sending fighters. 

With the motion to send fighters passed, this will be the first military foray by the semi-autonomous region into the Syrian civil war.

Iraqi Kurdish official Hemin Hawrami said on Twitter the peshmerga would be equipped with heavy weapons.

Kurdish media reports said a contingent of 200, heavily-armed soldiers, were preparing to cross into Syria from Turkey.

Ahead of the vote, Idris Nassen, a local Kurdish official in Kobane said no steps had been taken to coordinate the flow of Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces to his city.

"We have to be informed. Without any coordination any crossing will be impossible," he said, adding that there had been "fierce clashes" late Tuesday with IS attacking Kurdish positions from three directions.

According to the Iraqi Constitution, Peshmerga forces are a part of the Iraqi defense system. However, they are not connected to the Iraqi Ministry of Defence. Peshmerga only act on the orders of President Barzani, spokesman of Iraqi Kurdistan region's Peshmerga Ministry Jabbar Yavar said last week.

“This issue is not clarified between Baghdad and Erbil government until now but we believe that the new Iraqi government will resolve this problem,” he also said.

The People's Protection Units (PYD), the main Syrian group fighting IS in Kobane, have been holding out against the militant onslaught since 19 September. Despite the backing of US-led anti-IS coalition airstrikes, the border town has been on the verge of falling to IS on multiple locations, although the Kurds are currently believed to be in a relatively strong position, having been shored up by a US supply drop that took place on Sunday.

The fighting has pushed more than 200,000 refugees north in a little more than a month, and prompted Western powers and the UN in early October to urge Turkey to allow in Kurdish reinforcements to enter Kobane.

Ankara’s apparent inscription also sparked mass protests in southeast Turkey earlier this month, with people taking to the streets to demand Turkey allow Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) fighters to cross the border along with humanitarian aid and weapons. More than 30 people were killed in the ensuing clashes.

The rising tensions had caused mass speculation that the peace process between the PKK and the Turkish government was on the brink of collapse.

However, the PKK’s jailed leader of Abdullah Ocalan on Tuesday tried to put an end to the rumours.

"My hopes over a successful execution in this process have been increased," Abdullah Ocalan said in a message relayed on Tuesday by pro-Kurdish lawmakers who visited him in his prison on the island of Imrali near Istanbul.

"We have entered a new phase as of 15 October regarding the process that concerns Turkey's democratic future," he added.

The PKK, which has waged a three-decades long offensive for self-rule, is considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey and had given the Turkish government until mid-October to show it is serious about the peace process. 

The peace process had appeared to be making progress, until the spill over from neighbouring Syria flamed divisions.