Iraqi and Kurdish forces continued to battle hardline Sunni insurgents the Islamic State today, engaging the group on a number of fronts and reinforced by US air strikes and Western arms supplies.
Government forces launched an assault on Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, backed by Iraqi air force helicopters. It was the third high-profile attempt to recapture the city since it fell to the Islamic State on June 11 and the third to be repulsed — security forces subsequently broke off the attack and pulled back, army officials told AFP. Clashes also took place around the capital of Baghdad, the officers said.
Iraqi army spokesman, Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, said today that government forces were making a steady push to take back areas around Tikrit.
"There are still a lot of challenges and difficulties ahead of us," he told state television. "The war needs time, but we are determined to annihilate the Islamic State and to liberate all the areas they occupy — even if we suffer heavy causalities, because we have no other choice," al-Moussawi said, as reported by AP.
Meanwhile, a mixed force consisting of Iraqi troops and peshmerga fighters from Iraqi Kurdistan consolidated control of the strategically important Mosul Dam after a sustained offensive.
The dam fell to the Islamic State on August 7 during a lightning advance where it seized large chunks of Kurdish-held territory and sent minority communities fleeing. Recapturing the facility is a major victory for Iraqi and Kurdish forces as the dam has great strategic importance and is used to supply large parts of the country with both water and electricity.
US and Iraqi air support has played a large role in dislodging the militants. When VICE News visited the area surrounding the dam yesterday, a number of obvious air strike sites were visible and some buildings had been completely flattened. US Central Command said in a statement on Monday that it had conducted 15 airstrikes in the region that morning alone, using a mix of piloted aircraft and drones.
This brings the total number of attacks carried out on Islamic State targets near the dam to 35, out of a total 68 which have taken place in Iraq since August 8, when the US first launched strikes in an attempt to stop the insurgents advancing further into Kurdish territory.
US President Barack Obama sent a letter to Congress on Sunday saying that strikes around the dam helped secure American interests and ensure the safety of the Iraqi people. "The failure of the Mosul Dam could threaten the lives of large numbers of civilians, endanger US personnel and facilities, including the US Embassy in Baghdad, and prevent the Iraqi government from providing critical services to the Iraqi populace," Obama said.
The US is also supplying the peshmerga with small arms and ammunition, something a number of other countries, including France and the Czech Republic, have also committed to doing.
The renewed fighting came as the UN's refugee agency announced a stepped-up "air, road and sea operation" to help the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis displaced by recent violence who have sought refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan. Around 600,000 people fled Anbar province in January, another 600,000 were displaced when the Islamic State seized a large swathe of northern Iraq in June, and a further 200,000 left their homes when it launched an assault on Sinjar.
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