Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Iraqi Kurds, Yazidis Fight Islamic State for Strategic Town

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Iraqi Kurds, Yazidis Fight Islamic State for Strategic Town

Article excerpt

MOUNT SINJAR, Iraq - Kurdish and Yazidi fighters battled to take the strategic northern Iraqi town of Sinjar back from Islamic State on Sunday after breaking a months-long siege of the mountain above it.

Seizing the town would restore the majority of territory Iraq's Kurds lost in the jihadist group's surprise August offensive.

It would also give a huge strategic victory to the Iraqi Kurds and the central government in Baghdad, as the Kurdish fighters could then cut the highway from Syria to Mosul, a vital supply line for Islamic State.

Backed by U.S. warplanes, Iraqi Kurdish and Yazidi fighters, also joined by Kurdish guerrillas from Syria and Turkey, pushed into Sinjar from the western border post of Rabia and from Sinjar mountain to the north, to which Iraqi Kurdish fighters opened a corridor Thursday. The Iraqi Kurdish region's president, Masoud Barzani, visited Sinjar mountain and vowed that all of the town of Sinjar would be retaken.

"Most of Sinjar is under our control now. With the help of God we will free all of it. The help of the coalition forces was noteworthy, and their support was very effective," Mr. Barzani said on the mountain's summit.

Wounded peshmerga, as Iraqi Kurdish fighters are known, were raced by vehicle to the mountain summit for treatment. Planes and helicopters rumbled overhead, while from time to time the boom of an airstrike reverberated.

The U.S. military said it had carried out four air strikes around Sinjar on Sunday. Pick-up trucks full of peshmerga fighters hurtled down to Sinjar town, which was blanketed in smoke. The military campaign also promised relief for Iraq's Yazidi religious minority. When Islamic State pushed into the Sinjar area in August, killing or capturing thousands of Yazidis, some took refuge on the Sinjar mountain.

President Barack Obama cited the plight of the Yazidis when he first ordered air strikes against Islamic State this summer.

Returning from the town of Sinjar late Saturday, Yazidi fighter Qassem Sheshou, head of the Sinjar Protection Forces, said the area was heavily mined, but bragged the militants had not put up a fight. …

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