The US has begun directly providing weapons to Kurdish forces who have started to make gains against Islamic State (IS) militants in northern Iraq, senior officials say.
Previously, the US had insisted on only selling arms to the Iraqi government in Baghdad, but the Kurdish peshmerga fighters had been losing ground to IS militants in recent weeks.
The US officials wouldn’t say which agency is providing the arms or what weapons are being sent, but one official said it isn’t the Pentagon. The CIA has historically done similar quiet arming operations.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the operation publicly.
The move to directly aid the Kurds underscores the level of US concern about the IS militants’ gains in the north, and reflects the persistent administration view that the Iraqis must take the necessary steps to solve their own security problems.
The US has begun directly providing weapons to Kurdish forces in northern Iraq
At the same time, the administration is watching carefully as a political crisis brews in Baghdad, and Secretary of State John Kerry warned Iraq’s PM Nouri al-Maliki to maintain calm among the upheaval.
“We believe that the government formation process is critical in terms of sustaining the stability and calm in Iraq,” John Kerry said.
“And our hope is that Mr. Maliki will not stir those waters.”
Speaking in Australia on Monday, John Kerry said there should be no use of force by political factions as Iraq struggles form a government. He said the people of Iraq have made clear their desire for change and that the country’s new president is acting appropriately despite claims of malfeasance by Nouri al-Maliki.
Nouri al-Maliki is resisting calls to step down and says he’ll file a complaint against the president for not naming him prime minister.
John Kerry noted that Nouri al-Maliki’s Shia bloc has put forward three other candidates for the prime minister job and says the US stands with the new president, Fouad Massoum.
Nouri al-Maliki has accused Fouad Massoum of violating the constitution because he has not yet named a prime minister from the country’s largest parliamentary faction, missing a Sunday deadline.
Thousands of Syrian refugees are pouring over the border into Iraqi Kurdistan, the UN refugee agency says.
Up to 10,000 crossed at Peshkhabour on Saturday, adding to an earlier influx of 7,000 on Thursday.
The UN agencies, the Kurdish regional government and NGOs are struggling to cope, correspondents say.
The UN says the reasons are not fully clear, but there has been a sharp rise in clashes between Syrian Kurds and anti-government Islamist militants.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says this is one of the biggest single waves of refugees it has had to deal with since the uprising against the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.
The latest refugees are mainly families and have come from a broad stretch of territory in northern Syria.
They have been taking advantage of a new pontoon bridge over the Tigris.
Thousands of Syrian refugees are pouring over the border into Iraqi Kurdistan
Some 150,000 Syrian refugees are already registered in Iraq, of the 3 million said to have fled Syria in total since the uprising began.
The UNHCR says its field officers spotted the first group of 750 Syrians before noon on Thursday but in the afternoon, some 5,000 to 7,000 people followed.
The UN said the latest refugees had come from Aleppo, Hassakeh, Qamishli and other areas of conflict.
On Friday, UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards told reporters in Geneva: “The factors allowing this sudden movement are not fully clear to us.”
The UN said it was working with the Iraqi Kurdistan government and other agencies to establish a camp at nearby Darashakran.
“This should open in two weeks, and our hope is it will relieve pressure,” Adrian Edwards said.
The ethnic make-up of the latest wave has not been detailed.
Kurds make up about 10% of the Syrian population and are largely concentrated in the north-east.
They staged their own anti-Assad protests after the Syria conflict began in 2011 and their areas have been run by Kurdish local councils and militia since government forces withdrew last year.
But the Kurdish militias have recently been fighting jihadists of the anti-Assad al-Nusra Front, leaving dozens dead.
The president of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, recently threatened to intervene to defend the Kurdish population caught up in Syria’s unrest.
Massoud Barzani said if Kurds were “under threat of death and terrorism” then Iraqi Kurdistan would be “prepared to defend them”.
Iraqi Kurdistan comprises three provinces in northern Iraq. It has its own military and police force.
At least seven people have been killed and dozens more wounded in a bomb attack in Gaziantep, south-eastern Turkey, security sources and media say.
The suspected car bomb exploded close to a police station in Gaziantep, Turkey’s Dogan news agency reported.
Police officers were reported to be among the casualties and media showed a bus and other vehicles on fire.
At least seven people have been killed and dozens more wounded in a bomb attack in Gaziantep
No group has so far said it carried out the attack.
However, rebels from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) are active in south-eastern Turkey, which has a Kurdish majority.
Gaziantep’s governor Erdal Ata said the explosion had been caused by a remote-controlled car bomb, the Dogan agency said.
Earlier on Monday, two Turkish soldiers were killed and another wounded in a mine blast in south-eastern Hakkari province. Turkish officials blamed the attack on the PKK.
Clashes between the PKK – which seeks autonomy for the Kurds – and Turkey’s armed forces have increased in south-eastern Turkey over the past year.