Kurds gain more territory after breaking siege of Mount Sinjar
Kurdish forces claimed to have seized more territory following breaking the siege of Sinjar mountain in what they called their biggest victory yet in their war against Islamic State.
A senior Kurdish official said the peshmerga forces had driven the Islamist militants out of Snuny district north of the mountain on Friday, bringing them closer to retaking the entire Sinjar area on the border with Syria in northwest of Iraq. Islamic State captured huge swathes of Syria and Iraq earlier this year, killing or driving out thousands of Shi'ites and non-Muslims from the region. But now the tide of fighting has been reversed.
Helped by intensified coalition air strikes, the Peshmerga fought their way to the eastern tip of the Sinjar mountain range on Thursday, opening a corridor for tens of thousands of minority Yazidis who had been trapped there for months.
"Until now we haven't started evacuating people. We are still taking up defensive positions. Then we will bring them down," said Zaim Ali, the com- mander of Peshmerga for Sinjar, Zumar and Mosul dam areas.
The Kurdish President Massoud Barzani is personally directing the offensive, in which as many as 8,000 Peshmerga are taking part.
The aim of the operation is to reach Sinjar town on the southern side of the mountain, which sits on a road linking Mosul to neighboring Syria and is a key supply route for the militants.
Sinjar has become highly symbolic for the Kurds, whose reputation as fearsome warriors was bruised after Islamic State overpowered the Peshmerga and killed or captured hundreds of Yazidis in August.
U.S. President Barack Obama cited the duty to prevent an impending "genocide" of Yazidis by Islamic State as one of the main motives for authorising air strikes in Iraq this summer.
Since then, Kurdish forces have regained most of the ground they lost in northern Iraq, but Sinjar's awkward geography, out on a limb to the west, has made it difficult to pen- etrate.
Masrour Barzani, Head of the Iraqi Kurdish Region's National Security Council, said on Friday the U.S.-led air strikes had killed a senior Islamic State figure in Mosul on Wednesday .He was identified as Shihab Ahmed Hassan al-Luhai- bi, the Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's deputy for military affairs in Nineveh province and head of security for Mosul.
"The Peshmerga advanced from Zumar, east of Sinjar, recapturing 270 square miles in just a few days," Masrour Barzani added.
Barzani said the Peshmerga soldiers fought alone with no support from the Iraqi army and did not have heavy weapons. The only outside support, he said, were air strikes carried out by the internation- al coalition.
According to the UN, more than 500,000 Yazidis and members of other minority religions have fled northern Iraq since June and hundreds more have been killed.