Iraq Kurds launch major offensive to retake Sinjar from IS



Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by US-led strikes launched a major operation Thursday to retake the town of Sinjar from the Islamic State group and cut a key supply line to Syria.

Severing the supply line would hamper the jihadists’ ability to move fighters and supplies between northern Iraq and Syria, two countries where IS has overrun significant territory.

And retaking Sinjar where IS carried out a brutal campaign of killings, enslavement and rape against the Yazidi religious minority, would also be an important symbolic victory.

“The attack began at 7:00 am (0400 GMT), and the (Kurdish) peshmerga forces advanced on several axes to liberate the centre of the Sinjar district,” Major General Ezzeddine Saadun told AFP.

Columns of smoke rose over the town from US-led coalition strikes and Kurdish shelling against IS positions in Sinjar, an AFP journalist said.

Peshmerga Major General Hashem Seetayi said that Kurdish forces had regained multiple villages north of Sinjar.

The autonomous Kurdish region’s security council said up to 7,500 of its peshmerga fighters would take part in the operation, which aims to retake Sinjar “and establish a significant buffer zone to protect the (town) and its inhabitants from incoming artillery.”

“Coalition warplanes will provide close air support to peshmerga forces throughout the operation,” it said.

Kurdish forces face an estimated 300 to 400 jihadists in the town, Captain Chance McCraw, a US military intelligence officer, told journalists in Baghdad.

But it is not just the jihadist fighters they will have to contend with: IS has had more than a year to build up networks of bombs, berms and other obstacles in Sinjar.

– ‘Isolation of Mosul’ –
“This is part of the isolation of Mosul,” Colonel Steve Warren, spokesman for the international operation against IS, told journalists in Baghdad, referring to the jihadists’ main hub in northern Iraq.

“By interdicting that primary line of communication, Highway 47 (from Iraq to Syria), we’re able to degrade (IS’s) ability to resupply itself,” Warren said.

The fact that the Sinjar operation comes at the same time as others against IS in Iraq and Syria also increases pressure on the group.

“It paralyses the enemy — he’s got to make very tough decisions now, who does he reinforce,” Warren said.

After seizing Mosul and driving south toward Baghdad in a disastrously effective offensive in June 2014, IS again turned its attention to northern Iraq, pushing Kurdish forces back toward their regional capital Arbil.

IS overran the Sinjar area in August 2014, attacking Yazidis in what the United Nations has described as a possible genocide.

Thousands of Yazidis fled to Mount Sinjar, which overlooks the town, and were trapped there by IS.

Aiding them was one of Washington’s main justifications for starting its air campaign against IS last year, which has since expanded to training Iraqi forces and a joint raid in which a US soldier was killed last month.

With support from international strikes, Kurdish forces have managed to regain significant ground from IS, and have been positioned on Mount Sinjar at the edge of town for months.

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