Arbil (Iraq) — Dozens of Kurdish peshmerga fighters left a base in northern Iraq on Tuesday headed for the battleground Syrian town of Kobane, an AFP journalist reported.
The town on the Turkish border has become a crucial front in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group, which overran large parts of Iraq in June and also holds significant territory in Syria.
The AFP journalist saw dozens of military trucks leaving the base northeast of Kurdish regional capital Arbil from which officers said fighters bound for Kobane would depart.
The convoy included two towed artillery pieces and a number of covered trucks, some of them carrying rocket launchers.
Earlier, the fighters loaded machineguns and mortars into the trucks and packed bags for the trip.
“Forty vehicles carrying machineguns and weapons and artillery with 80 of the peshmerga forces will head to Dohuk (province) and then cross the border today,” a Kurdish officer told AFP.
A further 72 will fly to Turkey early on Wednesday, the officer said.
Halgord Hekmat, the spokesman of the Kurdish ministry responsible for the peshmerga, had said the fighters are “support forces” and will be armed with automatic weapons, mortars and rocket launchers.
The deployment will be open-ended, with peshmerga minister Mustafa Qader saying that: “They will remain there until they are no longer needed.”
Last week, under heavy U.S. pressure, Turkey unexpectedly announced it would allow the peshmerga fighters to cross its territory to join the fight for Kobane.
The main Syrian Kurdish fighting force in the town, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), has close links with the outlawed rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought a three-decade insurgency in southeast Turkey.
Ankara had previously resisted calls to allow in reinforcements.
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 had previously drawn flak from some federal lawmakers.
But the Iraqi premier and other senior federal officials have been publicly silent on the issue, indicating their at least tacit acceptance of the deployment.
Lawmaker Samira al-Mussawi, a member of the national parliament’s foreign relations committee, said it is “illegal and unconstitutional”.
And MP Alia Nsayif said in an email that the deployment violates several articles of Iraq’s constitution.
She cited articles naming the prime minister as commander-in-chief of the armed forces and outlining powers reserved for the central government, including formulating foreign and national security policy.
But a Kurdish member of parliament earlier defended the deployment as justified.
“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” them, MP Shirko Mohammed said.
And 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.”
AFP Photo/Safin Hamed
Want more political and world news? Sign up for our daily email newsletter!