ARBIL Iraq (Reuters) - Iraqi peshmerga fighters left Iraq for the besieged Syrian town of Kobani on Tuesday to help fellow Kurds in their battle against Islamic State militants, a senior Kurdish official said.
Hemin Hawrami, a senior official in the Kurdistan Democratic Party, wrote on his Twitter feed that peshmerga fighters were flying from Arbil airport to Turkey, from where they would travel by land to Kobani.
U.S. warplanes have been bombing Islamic State positions near Kobani for weeks, but Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has said air strikes alone would not be enough to repel the insurgents.
Turkey has been reluctant to join the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State, an al-Qaeda offshoot. But after pressure from its Western allies, President Tayyip Erdogan said last Wednesday that some peshmerga fighters from Iraq would be allowed to transit through Turkey to Kobani.
The town has been encircled by Islamic State fighters for more than a month and the battle to save it has become a test of the U.S.-led coalition’s strategy for halting the radical Sunni Muslim group’s advance.
The Iraqi Kurdish region’s parliament voted last week to deploy some peshmerga to Syria although a Kurdish government spokesman later said they would not engage in direct combat in Kobani but provide artillery support.
(This story has been refiled to fix dropped word in paragraph two)
Reporting by Isabel Coles; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Raissa Kasolowsky