Iraqi Kurd leader Massoud Barzani issues Syria warning

image captionKurdish militias in northern Syria have recently been fighting jihadist forces

The president of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan region has 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".

Recent fighting between Kurds and Islamist anti-government forces has left dozens dead in northern Syria.

Kurds make up about 10% of the Syrian population.

image captionMassoud Barzani called for a delegation to visit the Kurdish areas in Syria

They are largely concentrated in the north-east, towards the Turkish border.

The areas have been run by Kurdish local councils and militia since President Bashar al-Assad's forces withdrew last year.

More than 100,000 people have been killed in the 28-month conflict in Syria, with a further 1.7 million Syrians forced to seek shelter in neighbouring countries, according to UN estimates.

'All capabilities'

Syrian Kurdish militia have been engaged in fierce fighting recently with the jihadists of the anti-Assad al-Nusra Front.

Mr Barzani called for a delegation to visit the Kurdish areas in Syria.

He said if the delegation found evidence of "terrorists" killing Kurds, then Iraqi Kurdistan would "make use of all its capabilities to defend the Kurdish women, children and citizens in western Kurdistan".

image captionThe majority of Syria's Kurds reside in the north

Mr Barzani gave no details of what form any intervention might take.

Iraqi Kurdistan comprises three provinces in northern Iraq. It has its own military and police force.

Syria's ethnic Kurdish minority has faced decades of discrimination and marginalisation under Assad rule, with Syrian Kurds staging their own anti-government protests after the Syria conflict began in March 2011.

But most of the fighting recently has been against Islamist rebels.

Last month a prominent Syrian Kurdish politician, Isa Huso, was killed by a car bomb in the north-eastern town of Qamishli.

Kurdish militiamen responded with a call to arms to fight jihadists.