Iraq Kurds in Sinjar in major anti-IS push

  • 14/11/2015

Iraqi Kurdish forces have entered Sinjar in a major operation backed by US-led strikes to retake the town made infamous by the Islamic State (IS) group's massacre of members of the Yazidi minority.

The operation, which is led by the autonomous Kurdish region's peshmerga forces and also involves Yazidi fighters, had already succeeded in cutting a key jihadist supply line running past the town to neighbouring Syria.

The supply line is strategically important, but retaking Sinjar, where IS carried out a brutal campaign of massacres, enslavement and rape against the Yazidi community – would also be an important symbolic victory.

The success of the Sinjar drive is the latest sign that IS, which won a series of victories in a stunningly rapid offensive in Iraq last year, is now on the defensive.

On Friday morning (local time), hundreds of Kurdish fighters, dressed in camouflage uniforms and armed with assault rifles and machine guns, moved into the town on foot, an AFP journalist reported.

They entered carrying the autonomous Kurdish region's flag, firing in the air and shouting "Long live the peshmerga!" and "Long live Kurdistan!"

Inside Sinjar, many houses and shops, a petrol garage and the local government headquarters had been destroyed.

Burned-out cars sat in the streets, while barrels apparently containing explosives had been left behind.

The Kurdish region's security council said "peshmerga forces entered Sinjar town from all four directions to clear remaining [IS] terrorists from the area".

Peshmerga commander Khalaf Murad Atto said there were still IS suicide bombers in the town, while Yazidi fighter Rasho Murad said snipers and bombs remained a threat.

Sinjar has been pounded by US-led air strikes and Kurdish artillery fire targeting IS positions, which sent massive columns of smoke drifting up from the town on Thursday.

The coalition carried out 36 strikes against jihadists in the Sinjar area on Wednesday and Thursday, and 15 more across the border in Al-Hol, where Syrian Kurdish forces and their Arab allies are battling IS.

In a rare admission on Thursday, the Pentagon said US ground forces advising the Kurds on their offensive were close enough to the front to identify IS targets and call in strikes.

On Thursday, Kurdish forces cut the key highway that links IS-held areas in Iraq and Syria.

"Sinjar sits astride Highway 47, which is a key and critical resupply route" for IS, said Colonel Steve Warren, spokesman for the international operation against IS.

"By seizing Sinjar, we'll be able to cut that line of communication, which we believe will constrict [IS's] ability to resupply themselves, and is a critical first step in the eventual liberation of Mosul," said Warren, referring to the jihadists' main hub in Iraq.