Iraqi Kurdish president warns Syrian Kurds over infighting

Tue Nov 6, 2012 6:35am GMT

ARBIL, Iraq (Reuters) - Iraqi Kurdish President Masoud Barzani warned Kurds in Syria against being sucked into the "fires of discord," urging them to preserve Kurdish unity as tensions between rival factions threaten to spillover into violence.

Syria's Kurds see the war ravaging their country as an unprecedented opportunity to gain the kind of freedoms enjoyed by their ethnic kin in neighbouring Iraq, where they live autonomously from the federal capital in Baghdad.

Rivalry between two main camps, the Kurdish National Council (KNC) and another group, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) risks devolving into Kurd-on-Kurd conflict and further complicating the civil war in Syria.

Earlier this year, Barzani brought the KNC and PYD together in Iraqi Kurdistan, where they formed a joint council to present a united front for Kurdish interests. But the agreement has struggled to work on the ground in Syria, where the PYD has the strongest presence.

The PYD is also aligned with PKK separatist guerrillas fighting a 28-year-old war against Turkey, and the group's strong presence in northeast Syria has Ankara worried about a potential PKK safe haven over its border.

Members of the KNC recently accused the PYD's militia, known as People's Defense Units (YPG) of kidnapping a member of their politburo, a charge denied by the PYD.

"We call on all sides to release captives to safeguard the unity of (Kurdish) ranks and not to allow room for the fires of discord," Barzani was quoted as saying in a statement in Arabic on the regional government's website.

Barzani urged Syrian Kurds to co-operate and focus on the "higher goals and interests" of the Kurdish people.

The KNC was forged from more than a dozen smaller Syrian Kurdish parties with Barzani's blessing, and is broadly accepted by the political mainstream, unlike the PYD, which Turkey sees as tied to the Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK.   Continued...

Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani (R) meets with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Arbil, about 350 km (220 miles) north of Baghdad, August 1, 2012. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
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