Erbil and Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—The parliament of the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq voted on Wednesday to send Kurdish Peshmerga forces to the Syrian town of Kobani, where Syrian–Kurdish fighters have been battling for control of the border town with Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters.
“For the first time, the Kurds have decided to send Peshmerga forces to support other Kurds outside the Kurdistan region,” Yousif Muhammed Sadiq, the speaker of the autonomous region’s parliament said following the vote, adding: “Iraq and the Kurdistan region’s being part of the same coalition obliges us to approve sending Peshmerga forces outside the [Kurdistan] region in order to protect national security from the threat of terrorism.”
Halkord Hikmet, official spokesperson for the Peshmerga Ministry in the KRG, told Asharq Al-Awsat the Ministry would “in the quickest time possible take the necessary measures to send Peshmerga forces to Kurdish areas in Syria,” adding that the forces being sent would act as “supporting forces and will be well-armed with heavy weapons, because Kobani and its fighters are in need of this force in order to confront ISIS.”
Turkey agreed on Monday to allow Peshmerga forces to enter into Kobani via its territory, after coming under intense pressure from the international coalition formed by the US to combat ISIS.
Ankara had refused to aid Syrian–Kurdish fighters in the town, who are mainly from the armed wing of the Syrian–Kurdish Democratic Union Party, which Ankara considers a terrorist organization due to its affiliation with the separatist Turkish–Kurdish Kurdistan Workers’ Party.
Sources said the Peshmerga forces will be led by Sihad Barzani, brother of Massoud Barzani, the president of the KRG, with the size of the forces likely to range from 200–300 fighters.
Speaking at a press conference during a visit to Latvia on Thursday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that an agreement had been reached to send only 200 Peshmerga fighters into Kobani.
Tariq Jawhar, media consultant for the Kurdistan region’s speaker of parliament, told Asharq Al-Awsat the introduction of the fighters into Kobani would “mark the beginning of the end of terrorism in Iraq and the [Kurdistan] region as well.”
He added that the makeup of the forces the KRG are sending would depend on “what the fighters in Kobani need in terms of support,” adding that the force’s “missions will be highly specific but effective on the field of battle, turning the tide in favor of the Kurdish fighters.”
The KRG will not however be sending to Kobani the Syrian–Kurdish fighters that have recently been receiving military training in the Kurdistan region. “The Peshmerga are now part of the international coalition against ISIS, and we have received weapons from the coalition, which we are not authorized to give to anyone else apart from Peshmerga forces. For that reason it is necessary to send forces from the Kurdistan region with support weapons to these regions . . . These forces will reach Kobani soon and will reach Syrian territory via Turkey,” Hikmet said.
On Tuesday, video footage appeared online which claimed to show ISIS fighters displaying weapons and supplies seized from US airdrops meant for the Kurdish fighters in Kobani, with whom they have been locked in a weeks-long battle for control of the strategic border town.
Pentagon spokesmen said they were investigating the footage, but said they were confident that most of the airdropped supplies had reached the town’s defenders.
While the front line in the battle for the town has moved back and forth with each taking and losing territory at different points, the support of coalition airstrikes and additional supplies of weapons and ammunition appear to be turning the tide in favor of the Kurdish fighters.
A Kurdish official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media, told Asharq Al-Awsat Kurdish fighters were now in control of “60 percent of the town, mainly central and western regions” and that ISIS was now only in control of “20 percent” of the town.
The source said ISIS had attempted on Wednesday to enter central portions of the town but had been repelled by the Kurdish volunteer forces.
Caroline Akoum contributed additional reporting from Beirut.