Iraq breaks months-long jihadist siege
Marwan Ibrahim, AFP
September 1, 2014, 2:13 pm TWN
It is the biggest offensive success for the Iraqi government since militants led by the Sunni jihadist group Islamic State (IS) overran large areas of five provinces in June, sweeping security forces aside.
The breakthrough came on Sunday as the United States carried out limited strikes in the area, the first time it has expanded its more than three-week air campaign against militants outside of Iraq's north.
"The strike near Amerli damaged an ISIL tank and the strike near Mosul Dam destroyed an ISIL armed vehicle. All aircraft exited the strike area safely," a US Defense Department statement said, referring to the IS forces also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The mainly Shiite Turkmen residents of the town in Salaheddin province are endangered both because of their faith, which jihadists consider heresy, and their resistance to the militants, which has drawn harsh retribution elsewhere.
UN Iraq envoy Nickolay Mladenov had warned that they faced a "massacre" by the besieging militants.
"Our forces entered Amerli and broke the siege," Iraqi security spokesman Lieutenant General Qassem Atta told AFP, an account confirmed by a local official and a fighter from the town.
"It is a very important success," Atta later said on state television.
Colonel Mustafa al-Bayati said Sunday night that the town of Amerli was "completely secure", but clashes were still ongoing in villages to its west.
The operation to free Amerli was launched on Saturday after days of preparations in which Iraqi security forces, Shiite militiamen and Kurdish fighters deployed for the assault and Iraqi aircraft carried out strikes against militants.
Kurdish fighters and Shiite militiamen, meanwhile, clashed with militants who hold Sulaiman Bek and Yanakaja, north of Amerli.
The fighting killed two members of the Kurdish peshmerga forces, one of them a colonel, and 12 militiamen, an official responsible for the nearby Tuz Khurmatu area and a doctor said.
The government's reliance on the thousands of Shiite militiamen involved in the operation poses serious dangers for Iraq, risking entrenching groups with a history of brutal sectarian killings.