The Asian Age
Iraq fightback on after ending ISIS siege
Maliki says Iraq to prove graveyard for ISIS Syria, rebels clash as UN bids to free monitors
Sulaiman Bek ( Iraq)/ Golan Heights, Sept. 1: Iraqi troops, Kurdish fighters and Shia militiamen backed by US airstrikes pressed a fightback against jihadist- led militants on Monday, buoyed by breaking a weeks- long siege of a Shia town.
The military gains came as caretaker Premier Nouri al- Maliki vowed the country would prove a “graveyard” for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant ( ISIS), now known as the Islamic State.
The breakthrough to the town of Amerli on Sunday was the biggest offensive success for the Iraqi government since ISIS- led militants overran much of the Sunni Arab heartland north and west of Baghdad in June.
The United States carried out limited airstrikes in the area during the operation, the first time it has expanded its more than three- week air campaign against ISIS beyond the far north of Iraq.
Iraqi forces kept up the momentum on Monday, with Kurdish peshmerga fighters and Shia militiamen retaking Sulaiman Bek, a town north of Amerli that had been an important militant stronghold.
“Within a few hours, we were able to clear the town completely,” the commander of the Shia Badr militia, transport minister Hadi al- Ameri, said amid heavy security in Sulaiman Bek. Fighters celebrated in the abandoned town, firing in the air, chanting slogans against ISIS and showing off a captured black flag of the group. Troops backed by Kurdish fighters and Shia militiamen also surrounded the nearby town of Yankaja and pounded it with artillery and machine- gun fire as they fought to retake it from militants.
Before the operation, the mainly Shia Turkmen residents of Amerli were endangered both because of their faith, which jihadists consider heresy, and their resistance to the militants who besieged the town for 11 weeks.
UN Iraq envoy Nickolay Mladenov had warned that they faced a “massacre” by the besieging militants. Mr Maliki visited Amerli, 160 kilometres north of Baghdad on Monday, vowing that “Iraq will be a graveyard” for the ISIS. The operation to break the siege of the town was launched on Saturday after days of preparations.
More pledges were made to provide arms to Iraq’s Kurds, who are battling jihadists in northern and eastern Iraq. Backed by US airstrikes, Kurdish troops have succeeded in clawing back some areas of the north that they lost to the jihadists last month. Germany will send antitank rocket launchers, rifles and hand grenades to support Kurdish forces, the German defence ministry announced.
Meanwhile, Syrian troops and Islamist rebels battled close to the armistice line with Israel in the Golan Heights on Monday, as the UN pressed efforts to free 44 peacekeepers held by the insurgents. The unrest on Israel’s doorstep followed a spillover of mortar and gunfire into Israeli- controlled territory, putting the Jewish state on high alert and prompting it to shoot down a drone over the occupied plateau on Sunday.
Several mortar rounds struck on the edges of the ceasefire line early Monday as the combatants exchanged rocket, mortar and tank fire near the Quneitra crossing, which Al Qaeda- linked rebels seized last week.
On the other hand, the UN was working to locate and release 44 Fijian peacekeepers whom the insurgents captured while they overran Quneitra, as 72 Filipino members of the same force escaped a rebel siege on their positions nearby.
The Fijians were “safe” but their whereabouts uncertain.