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Video Shows Kurdish Fighters Breaking Islamic State Siege of Iraq's Mount Sinjar

The offensive, backed by US-led airstrikes, opened up a secure corridor to liberate thousands of members of the Yazidi minority who have been trapped there since fleeing an August assault by the jihadists.
December 19, 2014, 5:01pm
Image via YouTube

Kurdish Peshmerga forces say they have battled through Islamic State (IS) lines to break the jihadist siege of Iraq's Mount Sinjar, liberating thousands of members of the Yazidi minority who have been trapped there since fleeing a bloody IS assault in August.

Over 100 Islamic State fighters were killed when Kurdish fighters, backed by US-led airstrikes, reclaimed 270 square miles of land during a two-day offensive that began on Wednesday, Kurdish officials said.

In their largest push against IS to date, Kurdish Peshmerga forces launched a two-pronged attack aimed at creating a secure corridor between the mountain and the Kurdish-held town of Zumar.

A force of 8,000 Peshmerga fighters began the attack from Zumar, Iraqi Kurdish officials said. They were assisted by the heaviest bout of US airstrikes yet with coalition jets launching 45 attacks in total. According to the Kurdish regional government, the offensive succeeded in carving out a corridor, 44 miles wide and six miles deep, which will allow the Yazidis to finally escape the mountain.

"The Peshmerga have managed to reach the mountain. A vast area has been liberated," said Masrour Barzani, head of the Iraqi Kurdish region's national security council. "Now a corridor is open and hopefully the rest of the (Sinjar) region will be freed from Islamic State."

UN accuses Islamic State of attempted genocide as fighters renew assault on Iraq's Yazidis. Read more here.

In a press conference, Barzani said that up to 100 IS fighters had been killed, and that the remaining jihadists had fled to the IS strongholds of Mosul and Tal 'Afar.

Video is described as showing Kurdish fighters east of Mount Sinjar, just south of Zumar.

Video released by Kurdish authorities purportedly shows Peshmerga fighters east of Mount Sinjar, being brought to the front lines in trucks and armoured personnel carriers. One scene shows unexploded, rusted barrel bombs at the base of a mound of dirt. The footage then cuts to a tattered Islamic State flag waving in the wind and then a group of Peshmerga in a truck yelling "Long Live Kurdistan!"

After three months of being stranded in the remote, mountainous area, besieged on multiple fronts by the Sunni jihadists, "all those Yazidis that were trapped on the mountain are now free," Barzani said.

He added that the Peshmerga have not yet liberated the actual town of Sinjar, nor started evacuating the ethnic minority Yazidis.

The impact of coalition airstrikes this week was palpable across small towns like Little Koban, where the corpses of five jihadists were strewn in a valley, Reuters reported.

"It's the best feeling to kill the enemy," one Peshmerga said in the town after snapping a selfie on his cell phone with a body lying in the background. "Look at his beard, the son of a bitch."

One of the oldest minorities in Iraq, the Yazidis have been hunted by IS as their distinctive religious beliefs are considered by the Sunni militant group to be "devil worship." After routing the Iraqi army from a huge swathe of the country's north in the spring and early summer, the group began to turn their sights on the Yazidis, an assault which saw villages destroyed with the men summarily massacred and the women and children taken as slaves. Fearing the mass slaughter of their entire ethnic group, 40,000 Yazidis fled up Mount Sinjar only to find themselves surrounded by IS fighters and rapidly running low on supplies in the crippling heat of the Iraqi summer.

The deteriorating situation on Mount Sinjar became a catalyst for President Barack Obama to authorize military action in Iraq. The US-led airstrikes which followed helped the majority of those trapped to reach safety in Iraqi Kurdistan through a passage kept secure by the People's Protection Unit (YPG).

While much of the media attention has shifted to Kurdish attempts to liberate the Syrian border town of Kobane from a relentless IS offensive, thousands of civilians remained trapped on the mountain. Many had been too frail to make the long trek to safety or had been too difficult to reach. Fighters stayed to fight IS or to protect the Sharfadin shrine, one of the holiest sites for the Yazidi people.

Prior to this week's mission the only access the refugees on Mount Sinjar had to weapons and supplies was from drops by Iraqi army helicopters.

If the victory is verified it will represent a further blow to IS forces in Iraq, which have seen three of senior commanders killed in US airstrikes, including Haji Mutazz, a deputy to Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.