Iraq gov't backs Kurds, as Kurdish forces retake town from insurgents
Updated: 2014-08-05 11:22
BAGHDAD - Iraq's air force is supporting Kurdish fighters with airstrikes as the latter ramp up their campaign against Sunni militants from the Islamic State by retaking a town captured the day before by the Sunni insurgents, an Iraqi military spokesman and a Kurdish security official said.
Thousands of Iraqis flee from the town of Sinjar, near the city of Mosul, to Erbil and Dohuk after armed groups affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) seized the town early on Aug 4, 2014. [Photo/IC]
"(President Nouri al-Maliki) issued orders to the air force and the army's aviation (commanders) to provide air support to the (Kurdish) Peshmerga forces," military spokesman Major General Qasim Atta said in a statement.
The Peshmerga, Iraqi Kurdistan's regional security forces, have been battling Sunni militants since early June when Islamic State militants stormed and seized northern Iraqi cities after Iraqi security forces fled the area.
The news of the airstrikes came as Jabbar Yawar, the secretary general of the Peshmerga Ministry, announced that Kurdish fighters recaptured the town of Wanna as part of their military campaign against the Islamic State militants, who have seized several towns and Iraq's largest dam on the Tigris River in the past two days.
"The Peshmerga forces achieved a remarkable success and seized the town of Wanna near Mosul Dam," Yawar told the official website of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), a major Kurdish party headed by the former Iraq President Jalal Talabani.
Yawar said that the Peshmerga are preparing for a major attack to establish control of the towns of Zumar and Sinjar and others recently seized by the Sunni militants, according to the PUK.
Early Saturday, the insurgents took control of the town of Zumar, after fierce battles with the Peshmerga who were controlling the area.
On Sunday, the Islamic State militants captured the town of Sinjar, about 100 km west of Mosul, and later in the day, seized the town of Wanna and the nearby Mosul Dam, some 70 km north of Mosul city.
The Mosul Dam, Wanna, Zumar and Sinjar are part of the disputed areas which are ethnically mixed with Kurds, Arabs, Turkmens and others. The Kurds have demanded to expand their autonomous region in northern Iraq to include the oil-rich province of Kirkuk and other areas in the Iraqi provinces of Nineveh, Salahudin and Diyala, but their move is fiercely opposed by Baghdad government.
Early in June, the Peshmerga took control of the disputed areas, including the northern city of Kirkuk after the Iraqi security forces abandoned their bases following the Islamic State's June 10 blitzkrieg across Iraq in which the al-Qaida offshoot and other Sunni militant groups seized large swathes of territories in predominantly Sunni provinces.
Meanwhile, a total of 21 people were killed and 29 others wounded in bombardments and various clashes between Sunni militants and security forces in central Iraq on Monday, security and medical source said.
In Iraq's western province of Anbar, security forces, backed by helicopter gunships clashed with Sunni insurgents, including those who are linked to Islamic State, near the militant-seized city of Fallujah, leaving 10 militants dead, a provincial police source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.
Separately, four people were killed and 11 wounded in airstrikes and artillery shelling on several neighborhoods in Fallujah, a medical source from the city hospital anonymously told Xinhua.
Also, a mortar barrage struck the town of Garma, which is under control of Sunni militants, leaving at least three people dead and six wounded, and damaging several houses, a security source told Xinhua.
Elsewhere, fierce clashes erupted between the Sunni militants and army forces in the Mashahda area, some 30 km north of Baghdad. The clashes left three soldiers dead and eight others wounded, while one militant was killed and four others injured, a local police source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.