Iraqi forces entered the town of Amirli, breaking a siege imposed by Islamic State militants that lasted for more than two months, a senior Shiite-Muslim cleric said.
“People are celebrating the arrival of the forces by firing in the air,” Sheikh Jaafar Jasim, representative of Iraq’s top Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, said by phone from Amirli, 182 kilometers (114 miles) north of Baghdad.
Seven Iraqi government troops and two members of the Kurdish forces known as the peshmerga were killed in the attack, according to the health office in the northern city of Kirkuk. The offensive to free the town was preceded by U.S. airstrikes at Islamic State positions. U.S., U.K., Australian and as well Iraqi forces also dropped aid to the residents of the Shiite-dominated town.
Iraqi government forces and peshmerga fighters are pushing back against the al-Qaeda breakaway group with the help of U.S. air power. The group captured Mosul, Iraq’s largest northern city, in June and announced the establishment of a state in areas under its control in Iraq and Syria, where it emerged as one of the strongest forces in the civil war.
Islamic State fighters in villages near Amirli used mosques’ loudspeakers to call on their fighters to withdraw, Iraqi security spokesman Qassim Ata said on the state-sponsored Iraqiya television.
While the mission to help the besieged Shiite Turkmen in Amirli opened a new front for U.S. involvement in Iraq, it follows the same pattern of airstrikes against Islamic State forces. U.S. forces also air-dropped humanitarian aid around Mount Sinjar, where thousands of civilians from the Yezidi minority had been trapped seeking refuge.
President Barack Obama has said U.S. airstrikes will be limited to such humanitarian missions and to protecting American personnel and facilities until Iraq forms a more “inclusive” government that better represents the country’s ethnic and religious groups.
The U.S. this month authorized airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq while ordering surveillance flights over Syria.
Nations including the U.K. and Australia join the U.S. in offering aid to foes of Islamic State as the threat of militants returning from Iraq and Syria to plot attacks at home countries triggers heightened alerts. The U.K. has raised its terror threat to “severe,” the second-highest level.
U.S. military support helped Kurdish forces retake the Mosul Dam, Iraq’s largest, this month from Islamic State fighters. The peshmerga have since advanced on other towns that were captured by the militant group.
Ten Kurdish fighters were killed by roadside bombs that Islamic State militants had planted to slow the peshmerga’s advance on the town of Zummar in the north, Ari Harsin, a Kurdish lawmaker, said by phone today.
“As many as 20 others were wounded,” he said. “The military operation is ongoing and the peshmerga is slowly advancing toward central Zummar.”