Published On: Wed, Oct 29th, 2014

Iraqi Kurdish fighters arrive in Turkey after deal to let them cross into Syria | World news |

Iraqi Kurdish fighters arrive in Turkey after deal to let them cross into Syria | World news |
The convoy of Kurdish peshmerga fighters crosses the border into Turkey from Iraq. Photograph: Ilyas Akengin/AFP/Getty Images

A group of Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga troops arrived in Turkey early on Wednesday on their way to Syria to fight Islamic State (Isis) extremists in the embattled border town of Kobani.

The unprecedented mission by the 150 fighters came after Ankara agreed to allow the peshmerga troops to cross into Syria via Turkey, although the Turkish prime minister reiterated that his country would not be sending any ground forces of its own to Kobani, along the Syrian-Turkish border.

The peshmerga forces landed early on Wednesday at the Sanliurfa airport in south-eastern Turkey. They left the airport in buses escorted by Turkish security forces and were expected to travel to Kobani through the Mursitpinar border crossing with Syria.

The Turkish prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, told the BBC that sending the peshmerga was “the only way to help Kobani, since other countries don’t want to use ground troops”.

Isis launched its offensive on Kobani and nearby Syrian villages in mid-September, killing more than 800 people, according to activists. The Sunni extremists captured dozens of Kurdish villages around Kobani and control parts of the town. More than 200,000 people have fled across the border into Turkey.

The US is leading a coalition that has carried out dozens of air strikes targeting the militants in and around Kobani.

The deployment of the 150 peshmerga fighters, who were authorised by the Iraqi Kurdish government to go to Kobani, underscores the sensitive political tensions in the region.

Turkey’s government views the Syrian Kurds defending Kobani as loyal to what Ankara regards as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ party, or PKK. That group has waged a 30-year insurgency in Turkey and is designated a terrorist group by the US and Nato.

Under pressure to take greater action against the Isis militants from the west as well as from Kurds inside Turkey and Syria, the Turkish government agreed to let the fighters cross through its territory. But it is allowing only the peshmerga forces from Iraq, with whom it has a good relationship, and not those from the PKK.

A separate Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga convoy of Toyota Land Cruisers and trucks carrying cannons and machine guns crossed into Turkey early on Wednesday at the Ibrahim Khalil border crossing at Zakho in northern Iraq.

The land convoy and the 150 fighters were expected to join up and cross jointly into Syria.

Peshmerga soldiers carrying Kurdish flags were on some of the vehicles as they headed from Irbil to the Iraqi-Turkish border crossing. The troops made the victory sign. An ambulance and government vehicles with blaring sirens accompanied the convoy.

The Kurds of Syria and Iraq have become a major focus in the war against Isis, with Kurdish populations in both countries under significant threat from the militant group’s lightning advance as it seeks to establish an Islamic caliphate in the region.