Kurdish fighters face resistance from ISIL in Iraq

One of the Kurdish fighters, Bakhil Elias, said clashes since late Sunday night had been “fierce” and that ISIL was using snipers. At least two Kurdish peshmerga fighters have been killed by snipers in the latest fighting, with 25 wounded.

MOUNT SINJAR // Kurdish fighters in Iraq pushed deeper into the town of Sinjar on Monday, but were facing stiff resistance from ISIL militants who captured it in August.

One of the Kurdish fighters, Bakhil Elias, said clashes since late Sunday night had been “fierce” and that ISIL was using snipers. At least two Kurdish peshmerga fighters have been killed by snipers in the latest fighting, with 25 wounded.

Large plumes of black smoke were billowing into the sky from inside the town.

Kurdish forces said ISIL militants were burning tires and oil to create a smoke screen of thick dark clouds to obstruct air strikes against their positions by the US-led coalition.

Kurdish fighters — also known as the peshmerga — launched the operation to retake Sinjar last week.

On Saturday they were able to reach thousands of Yazidi families, who had been trapped on Mount Sinjar since August.

Peshmerga fighters opened up a corridor to the mountain and are regularly bringing truckloads of aid and food to the area.

In neighbouring Syria, Kurdish fighters pushed into an ISIL-held neighbourhood in the northern town of Kobane, capturing a cultural centre they had besieged on Saturday.

“The centre is very important morally and militarily,” said Kobane-based activist Mustafa Bali. The centre is located on a hill that overlooks several neighbourhoods east and south-east of the town.

“This will change the military rhythm in the coming days,” Mr Bali said, adding that the aim of Kurdish fighters in Syria is to evict ISIL militants from Kobane and nearby villages.

Kurdish fighters have been slowly advancing in Kobane over the past weeks, supported by Iraqi peshmerga fighters who came to help, as well as air strikes by the US-led coalition.

On Monday, US-led coalitions carried out 12 air strikes in Syria and another ten in Iraq — both against ISIL militants.

ISIL began its Kobane offensive in mid-September, capturing parts of the town as well as dozens of nearby villages. Hundreds of fighters on both sides have since been killed.

Idriss Nassan, a local official in the town, said that in recent days the Syrian Kurdish force known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, “has taken the initiative” and advanced in ISIL-held neighbourhoods.

Mr Nassan said peshmerga fighters usually bombard ISIL positions in the town while YPG fighters carry out the ground attack with the help of air strikes that target militant positions.

Also on Monday it emerged that ISIL claims to have arrested four men it classified as “extremists,” accused of plotting against the group in areas of Iraq and Syria under its control.

In a video purportedly posted by the group on extremist websites, a male voice says ISIL has “captured an extremist religious cell planning to take up arms against the Caliphate,” referring to the regions it controls in both countries.

The men, speaking Azerbaijani Turkish, accused ISIL’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, of being “an infidel as he takes money from infidels”.

The video does not specify when or where the men were arrested but it carries the initials of Syria’s Raqqa province, a stronghold of ISIL in the north of the country.

The fate of the four detainees is also not revealed but the video ends with the recitation of a Quranic verse stating that those who fight against God and the Prophet Mohammed deserve to die or have their arms and legs amputated.

* Associated Press with Agence France-Presse and Reuters

Published: December 22, 2014 04:00 AM

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