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Iraqi security forces break militant siege of Shiite town

BAGHDAD -- Iraqi security forces and Shiite militiamen on Sunday broke a six-week siege imposed by the Islamic State extremist group on the northern Shiite Turkmen town of Amirli, following U.S. airstrikes against the Sunni militants' positions, officials said.

Army spokesman Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said the operation started at dawn Sunday and the forces entered the town shortly after midday.

Speaking live on state TV, al-Moussawi said the forces suffered “some causalities,” but did not give a specific number. He said fighting was “still ongoing to clear the surrounding villages.”

Breaking the siege was a “big achievement and an important victory” he said, for all involved: the Iraqi army, elite troops, Kurdish fighters and Shiite militias.

Turkmen lawmaker Fawzi Akram al-Tarzi said they entered the town from two directions and were distributing aid to residents.

About 15,000 Shiite Turkmens were stranded in the farming community, some 105 miles (170 kilometers) north of Baghdad. Instead of fleeing in the face of the Islamic State group's rampage across northern Iraq in June, the Shiite Turkmens stayed and fortified their town with trenches and armed positions.

Residents succeeded in fending off the initial attack in June, but Amirli has been surrounded by the militants since mid-July. Many residents said the Iraqi military's efforts to fly in food, water and other aid had not been enough, as they endured the oppressive August heat with virtually no electricity or running water.

Nihad al-Bayati, who had taken up arms with fellow residents to defend the town, said some army units had already entered while the Shiite militiamen were stationed in the outskirts. He said residents had fired into the air to celebrate the arrival of the troops.

“We thank God for this victory over terrorists,” al-Bayati told The Associated Press by phone from the outskirts of Amirli. “The people of Amirli are very happy to see that their ordeal is over and that the terrorists are being defeated by Iraqi forces. It is a great day in our life.”

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Iraqi Shiite Turkmen disembark from an Iraqi Army helicopter aid flight that brought supplies to Amirli, a town that has been completely surrounded by militants with the Islamic State group since mid-July, after being evacuated from Amirli, in al-Muthana airport, Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, Aug. 30. (AP)

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