Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Monday instructed Iraq's security forces and Red Crescent to allow in Syrian refugees and provide them with support, reversing an earlier decision.

"The prime minister directed Iraqi forces and police and the Iraqi Red Crescent to receive Syrian refugees and help them and provide them with services," state broadcaster Iraqiya television said.

Iraq had previously said it would not accept any Syrian refugees and sealed off its border points to all those wanting to cross, except for Iraqi citizens fleeing the violence in Syria.

Government spokesman Ali Dabbagh had said on Friday that Iraq could not support Syrian refugees because "we cannot provide aid... and because of the security situation."

Tens of thousands of Syrians have fled their country in recent days after violence mounted, particularly in the capital Damascus.

Iraq's transport ministry has said more than 2,000 Iraqis have returned to the country by plane in recent days, as well as authorities having estimated "thousands" having crossed the Al-Waleed border point along the southern edge of the 600-kilometre (375-mile) frontier between the two countries.