Kurdish forces, Islamic State clash near Arbil

Kurdish forces, Islamic State clash near Arbil

BAGHDAD - Reuters
Kurdish forces, Islamic State clash near Arbil

Smoke rises during clashes between Kurdish 'peshmerga' troops and militants of the Islamic State, formerly known as ISIL, on the outskirts of Sinjar, west of Mosul. REUTERS Photo

Kurdish forces attacked Islamic State fighters on Aug. 6 just 40 kilometers southwest of the Kurdish regional capital of Arbil in northern Iraq, a senior Kurdish official told Reuters.

The attack came after Islamic State militants inflicted a humiliating defeat on the Kurds on Aug. 3 with a rapid advance through three towns, prompting Iraq's prime minister to order his air force for the first time to back the Kurdish forces.

"We have changed our tactics from being defensive to being offensive. Now we are clashing with the Islamic State in Makhmur," said Jabbar Yawar, secretary-general of the ministry of the Kurdish peshmerga fighters.

The location of the clashes puts the Islamic State militants closer than they have ever been to the Kurdish semi-autonomous region since they swept through northern Iraq almost unopposed in June.

Yawar said the Kurds had re-established military cooperation with Baghdad. Ties had been strained between the Kurdish leadership and the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki over oil, budgets and land.

But the dramatic weekend offensive by the Sunni militants - who seized more towns, a fifth oilfield and Iraq's biggest dam - prompted them to bury their differences.
Yazidi minority at risk

"The peshmerga ministry sent a message to the Iraqi defence ministry requesting the convening of an urgent meeting on military cooperation. The joint committees have been reactivated," said Yawar by telephone.

The Islamic State, which has declared a 'caliphate' in swathes of Iraq and Syria that it controls and threatens to march on Baghdad, poses the biggest threat to OPEC member Iraq since a U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Islamic State fighters and their Sunni militant and tribal allies also hold parts of western Iraq.

The Islamic State, which believes Iraq's majority Shi'ites are infidels who deserve to be killed, seized three towns during their weekend offensive, including Sinjar, home to many of Iraq's Yazidi minority sect.

Yazidis, who are ethnic Kurds and followers of an ancient religion derived from Zoroastrianism, are at high risk of being executed because they are viewed by the Islamic State Sunni militants as devil worshippers.

Yawar said 50,000 Yazidis now hiding on a mountain risked starving to death if they were not rescued within 24 hours.

"Urgent international action is needed to save them. Many of them, mainly the elderly, children and pregnant women, have (already) died," he said.

"We cant stop the Islamic State from attacking the people on the mountain because there is one paved road leading up to the mountain and it can be used by them. They (Islamic State) are trying to get to that road."