Iraq crisis: PM urges UK Kurds not to travel to fight IS

Kurdish peshmerga forces celebrate as they take control of Sulaiman Pek from the Islamist State militants Image copyright Reuters

David Cameron has urged people not to travel to Iraq and Syria, amid claims that Britons have joined the fight against Islamic State (IS) militants.

His comments come as BBC News was told British Kurds have travelled from the UK to join Kurdish forces fighting IS.

The prime minister said said there was a "fundamental difference" between fighting for the Kurds and joining IS.

The Home Office said taking part in a conflict overseas could be an offence under both criminal and terror laws.

"However, UK law makes provisions to deal with different conflicts in different ways - fighting in a foreign war is not automatically an offence but will depend on the nature of the conflict and the individual's own activities," it added.

'Protect homeland'

One Kurdish woman from West Yorkshire told BBC Radio Leeds she knew of 20 young men from West Yorkshire and Manchester who had travelled to Iraqi Kurdistan to fight IS.

She said the British Kurds had travelled there to protect their "homeland".

Mr Cameron said he was aware the crisis in the region was attracting supporters of both sides from the UK.

He has previously said about 500 Britons had travelled to fight in Syria or Iraq but there are no estimates for the number of Kurds who have gone to fight.

Mr Cameron, also speaking to BBC Radio Leeds, said there was a difference between joining the forces of the "recognised Kurdish authority" and Sunni extremist group IS.

Asked how a distinction between volunteers with the Kurdish authorities and IS fighters would be made if fighters returned to the UK, Mr Cameron said: "That's why we have such highly trained border staff, police and intelligence services to do exactly that work."

He said the Kurdish authorities had done "very good work" opposing the extremists.

However, he added: "We want to limit the number of people travelling from here to go to these dangerous parts of the world, whatever they are planning to do."

'Focus on aid'

The latest Foreign Office advice warns against all travel to large sections of central and northern Iraq, including Irbil, the capital of semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, as well as to Syria.

The UK government also advises against all but essential travel to the rest of Iraq.

Mr Cameron said some Britons who had initially travelled to the Middle East to help with aid convoys had become radicalised while they were there.

"We should focus on making sure humanitarian aid is getting in and you can do that from home," Mr Cameron added.