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Iraqi forces claim to make more progress against ISIS - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Kurdish Peshmerga troops participate in an intensive security deployment against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants in Zammar, Iraq, on October 25, 2014. (Reuters/Ari Jalal)

Kurdish Peshmerga troops participate in an intensive security deployment against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants in Zammar, Iraq, on October 25, 2014. (Reuters/Ari Jalal)

Erbil, Asharq Al-Awsat—Iraqi government and Kurdish forces claimed to be making progress against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) on Saturday and Sunday, retaking territory in northern Iraq from the group with the backing of Shi’ite militias and US airstrikes.

On Sunday, Iraqi security forces claimed to have recaptured four villages close to the Hamrin mountains, 60 miles (100 kilometers) south of the city of Kirkuk, continuing an advance that began on Saturday, with the assistance of pro-government Shi’ite militias.

According to reports, the government’s efforts are designed to recapture territory in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, and put pressure on ISIS’s supply lines to its fighters around the city of Baaquba.

The latest advances came only days after Iraqi troops succeeded in expelling ISIS from the town of Jurf Al-Sakhr, 37 miles (60 kilometers) south of Baghdad, after months of fighting.

Elsewhere Iraqi–Kurdish Peshmerga forces, backed by US airstrikes, entered the Zammar district in northern Iraq on Saturday after fierce battles with ISIS militants.

“The Peshmerga forces on Saturday morning launched an extended attack from two sides to retake Zammar district and nearby villages from ISIS,” a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Muhyeddin Mazuri, told Asharq Al-Awsat.

By noon the Peshmerga had seized eight villages in addition to Zammar, he added.

The Peshmerga “completely cleansed Zammar of ISIS,” with the help of US jets that directed “fatal” strikes to the Islamist militants, said Mazuri.

The strategically important district connects Dahuk—a provincial capital—and Sinjar with the city of Mosul, and is home to some 70 Kurdish-majority villages.

Arab villages in the area “have started to abandon ISIS because its defeat in Zammar proved to them that the Islamist group will not find any resort beyond Zammar to hide from the Peshmerga,” he added.

Also on Saturday, the Peshmerga fended off two attacks by ISIS near Rabia, on the border with Syria, Kurdish officers said.

“We have inflicted great losses on ISIS,” Maj. Gen. Hashem Stety, a Peshemrga commander near Rabia, told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Meanwhile, ISIS militants continued their siege on Mount Sinjar where Yazidi families have been stranded for the fourth day in a row with no access to weapons to resist the Islamist attackers.

“ISIS militants have taken advantage of the rainfall and the tough climate conditions as well as the absence of airstrikes in order to advance towards Sinjar,” said Mahma Khalil, who commands the Peshmerga forces near the strategic mountain.

Despite the ongoing siege, Khalil said the defenders had been able to fight back and blunt ISIS’s attempts to advance further.

“ISIS is laying siege to the mountain from the four sides. They tried to climb the mountain but failed after they were pushed back by the defenders, who killed 70 militants of Chechen, Afghan and European nationalities,” he added.

The military official appealed to the international community and the Iraqi government to provide more support in order to help lift the siege.