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Islamic State 'Defeated and On the Run' From Sinjar — But Who Made It Happen?

VICE News is embedded with Kurdish forces as they mount an offensive to take back the Iraqi town of Sinjar from IS. This morning they are claiming victory.

by VICE News
Nov 13 2015, 10:35am

Une frappe aérienne à Sinjar. Photo via Conseil de sécurité régional du Kurdistan.

Kurdish fighters say they have taken back the key city of Sinjar from the Islamic State, though there are arguments about which group is responsible for the claimed victory.

"ISIL defeated and on the run," the Kurdistan regional security council said in a tweet, using an acronym for Islamic State.

It said troops had secured Sinjar's silo, cement factory, hospital and several other public buildings.

Kurdish fighters were seen walking in the town amidst destroyed buildings and vehicles; others were showing victory sign while standing by the main road leading to the town.

VICE News is embedded with one of three divisions of Kurdish forces, on the highway linking the town of Telafer with Sinjar, a major supply route between Syria and Iraq. Overnight the sounds of airstrikes emanated from Sinjar, but the road was quiet. 

Hundreds of peshmerga vehicles and tanks amassed, avoiding craters left by exploded IEDs. Smoke rose from a few houses burning in the villages nearby that had been cleared of IS fighters the previous day.

Related: Kurds Launch Offensive to Take Back Sinjar From Islamic State

Standing outside his MRAP (heavily armored, mine protected) vehicle, 29-year-old peshmerga captain engineer Dilgash said fighters had received intelligence that IS had planted a lot of IEDs. "There's a [peshmerga] brigade coming from the other side," he said. "We're going to meet in the middle and crush Daesh."

At that point there were still IS fighters trapped inside the cement factory and there were concerns about suicide bombers.

When asked if they were expecting to face resistance inside the city, a peshmerga special forces fighter said: "We think it's going to be easy. Nothing is happening. They're running. Their bullets finish and they blow up themselves."

A peshmerga commander, Aziz Wayse, was very clear. "If they resist, they're going to die," he said.

By noon, hundreds of peshmerga had filtered into Sinjar, which was deserted apart from fighters. The city was levelled, with giant craters, collapsed buildings, and burned out vehicles in the street.

They met little resistance, and were celebrating. The city was leveled, with burned out vehicles, giant craters, and collapsed buildings.

Peshmerga fighters joined counterparts from the military wing of the PKK — the Kurdistan Workers' Party, historic rivals of the Kurdish Democratic Party, which most peshmerga are affiliated to — to celebrate in a central square as the city was cleared of IS fighters.

The real story, though, may be more complicated. PKK fighters, who had been fighting in the city and surrounding areas for over a year, had worked with the peshmerga as both groups put on a united front.

PKK fighters who spoke to VICE News, however, expressed anger that all the credit would be given to the peshmerga. One fighter said angrily: "It doesn't matter, you have [people] saying the peshmerga liberated it."

As KDP peshmerga were hanging up flags, another PKK fighter accused the group of misleading the Kurdish people. The PKK had been fighting IS in Sinjar for over a year, he said, had suffered many deaths, and now the KDP had come and "fired in the air" while claiming they had won the battle.

Another fighter claimed that the KDP peshmerga had been motivated for political reasons.

With both the PKK and the KDP peshmerga having massive presence in the city, and both reluctant to relinquish control of Sinjar, the future of the city may yet see more tension. PKK fighters assured VICE News that the decision of whether or not they would stay would be left to the Yazidi people, the religious minority that was forced to flee when IS invaded a year ago.

It was IS's killing and enslaving of thousands of Yazidi residents in Sinjar that focused international attention on the group's violent campaign to impose its radical ideology and prompted Washington to launch its air offensive.

A US-led military coalition has carried out dozens of strikes in the past few weeks in support of the peshmerga, apparently coordinated with the Sinjar offensive.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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