Kurds free 1,500 Yazidi families on southern Mount Sinjar
ERBIL, Iraq // Iraqi Kurdish forces retook the southern part of Mount Sinjar on Saturday, freeing about 1,500 trapped families from the Yazidi religious minority.
The Peshmerga, as the Iraqi Kurdish fighters are known, are still battling ISIL militants near Sinjar city. They are being aided by air strikes and intelligence from US-led alliance forces, said Noureddin Qablan, deputy chief of the Nineveh provincial council.
“The operation to advance toward the southern area of Sinjar started two days ago, and the offensive to retake Sinjar city started a few hours ago,” said Mr Qablan.
He added that fighters from ISIL had shown little resistance, fleeing many towns as Kurdish forces advanced.
The offensive came the day after peshmerga forces broke ISIL’s months-long siege on Mount Sinjar.
The Kurdistan Regional Security Council (KRSC) said that peshmerga forces had taken complete control of a number of villages north of the vast mountain range, a 60-kilometre-long ridge in northwestern Iraq.
Fighters and civilians from the Kurdish Yazidi minority had been trapped on top of the mountain since September.
The KRSC said the aim of the operation was to reconquer territory covering around 2,100 square kilometres.
Masrour Barzani, head of the KRSC, said 8,000 peshmerga are involved in the operation, and described it as the biggest and most successful so far against ISIL extremists.
Other groups are also involved in the operation, including the Syrian Kurdish YPG group, which is also leading the battle in the town of Kobane, on Syria’s border with Turkey.
The armed wing of Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and a local Yazidi offshoot known as the YBS also have fighters on the mountain.
The YPG issued a statement on Friday saying they were moving south and taking villages on the Iraqi border back from ISIL to connect with PKK and YBS forces moving north.
Their aim is reopen the corridor along which tens of thousands of Yazidis fled after ISIL began its siege of Mount Sinjar in August.
The siege was cited as the main reason for US air strikes that began in August. American planes began by dropping food and water to the trapped Yazidis, who fled as ISIL advanced.
On Friday, local residents reported that peshmerga forces were closing in on Tall Afar, pounding ISIL positions with artillery and forcing civilians and fighters to flee.
Tall Afar is a large town located between Sinjar and ISIL’s main hub of Mosul. Huge numbers of Shiites and Turkmens had to flee the town in June.
Mr Qablan said retaking Sinjar would have an “influential role” in taking back Mosul as “Sinjar is one of the main backup lines” for ISIL in the city.
Kurdish fighters had also advanced in the northern Syrian town of Kobane following heavy clashes with ISIL, a Kurdish official and London-based activist group said on Saturday.
Nawaf Khalil, a spokesman for the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, said fighters advanced in six neighbourhoods and had besieged the ISIL-held cultural centre, east of town.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the main Syrian Kurdish force, known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, killed several ISIL fighters.
ISIL began its Kobane offensive in mid-September, capturing parts of the town as well as dozens of nearby villages.
Kurdish forces have gradually pushed the extremist group back in recent weeks, however, with the help of US-led coalition air strikes. On Thursday the US carried out six air strikes that destroyed seven ISIL fighting positions, a building and a tactical unit, the US military said.
* Associated Press and Bloomberg
Published: December 21, 2014 04:00 AM