The president of Iraqi Kurdistan has threatened to intervene in neighboring Syria to defend the large Kurdish population living there from Al Qaeda-linked fighters.

The statement Saturday from Massoud Barzani follows weeks of clashes in predominantly Kurdish parts of northeastern Syrian near the Iraqi border between Kurdish militias and Islamic extremist rebel factions. The fighting has killed dozens on both sides.

Barzani has ordered an investigation to verify the reports of fighting. He says that if Syrian Kurds are indeed threatened by "killing and terrorism," then Iraqi Kurdistan "will make use of all its capabilities to defend the Kurdish women, children and citizens in western Kurdistan."

Iraq's largely autonomous Kurdish region boasts its own ministries and security forces.

In Syria, Kurds make up about 10 percent of the country's 23 million people.