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Middle East Amp North Africa
Iraqi Kurds retake besieged Mt Sinjar
From the Financial Times of Thu, 18 Dec 2014 22:37:01 GMT

Yazidis flee Mount Sinjar in August

Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces have broken a five-month siege on Mount Sinjar, where hundreds of Iraq’s Yazidi minority were trapped on a mountaintop by militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as Isis.

The Kurdistan Region Security Council of Iraq’s autonomous northern Kurdish region said it secured access to the mountain on Thursday, a day after it launched its assault. Yazidis had been trapped on Mount Sinjar, in northwestern Iraq, after fleeing an offensive in August by Isis that killed dozens of people and forced many women into slavery.

“In under 48 hours, peshmerga forces have succeeded in retaking 700 square kilometres of Isis-held territory,” the Kurdish security council said. “This corridor . . . has enabled the peshmerga to gain direct access to the displaced people trapped on Mt Sinjar, to provide humanitarian support and evacuation where necessary.”

The peshmerga have yet to recapture the actual city of Sinjar, but its ability to lift the siege on Mount Sinjar is a symbolic victory for the peshmerga after the flight of the Yazidis sparked a humanitarian crisis this summer as well as international concern about Isis advances. The group seized nearly a quarter of Iraq and neighbouring Syria.

Fears of a massacre of Yazidis was one of the issues mentioned by US President Barack Obama to justify his decision to lead an international coalition to try to beat back the jihadi group.

For Isis, control of the Sinjar area had allowed it to secure its supply routes between the countries.

The US-led coalition has launched dozens of air strikes as it tries to rebuild Iraqi and Kurdish forces that initially crumbled in the face of Isis attacks.

Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga, helped by Kurdish forces in neighbouring Syria, have regained their momentum under the cover of coalition strikes and with the help of arms shipments from Washington, Britain and other European countries.

The peshmerga had regained most Iraqi Kurdish territory earlier in the autumn, but Sinjar, a mountainous region bordering Syria, had been much more difficult to penetrate.

The KRSC said its forces believed Isis militants were fleeing towards the Syrian border and towards other strongholds in Iraq, such as Tel Afar and Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city.

Iraqis living in Mosul, which Isis captured in June, are bracing to become the next target for a joint offensive. Kurdish officials have warned it will take much longer to retake a large urban centre where militants have ensconced themselves and where the city’s mostly Sunni Muslim residents are resentful of a Shia majority-led government.

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