The president of Iraqi Kurdistan has claimed that Syrian Kurds are undergoing military training in northern Iraq under his government’s auspices. The Syrian Kurds had apparently defected from the army of President Bashar al-Assad.
“A good number of the young Kurds who fled have been trained,” Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani told al-Jazeera.
“We do not want to interfere directly in the situation, but they have been trained.”
Barzani explained that the Kurds are receiving training in order to protect their cities and villages in Syria whence they return.
“They have not been sent to Syria. They are still here… they will wait for the situation to be sorted out because these people are from these areas and they will go back eventually,” he added.
“This was aimed at filling the vacuum that will be created.”
He also said that the KRG is seeking to combine the various Kurdish factions in Syria under one unified umbrella.
However, another Kurdish official in Iraq dismissed Barzani’s claims.
“This [claim] is not true,” said Jabar Yawar, the spokesman for the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs of the KRG.
“There is only one camp in [the city of] Dohuk, which was established under the control of the United Nations for Syrians, including women and children. This camp is only for humanitarian aid. There is no point in establishing a military camp and sending soldiers to this camp. We don't have any intention of interfering in any country's domestic affairs.”
A non-Arab peoples, Kurds are spread out across Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey – they have suffered discrimination and oppression in all these nations. Iraqi Kurdistan is an autonomous region, however.
Kurds are believed to make up about 9 percent of Syria’s population, and are concentrated in the country’s northeastern corner.
Turkey, which has been fighting Kurdish separatists for decades, would be most alarmed if Kurds in Iraq seek to influence affairs in Syria. Reuters reported that as Assad’s forces have withdrawn from Kurdish-dominated towns in northern Syria, a Kurdish group called the Democratic Union Party (PYD) is establishing control in the region.
PYD is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is engaged in a war with the Turkish state.
“In some places, the Syrian regime handed over power to the PYD and withdrew, Abdelbasset Seida, head of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC), said after meeting Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.