Iraqi forces aided by U.S. airstrikes have broken the six-week-long militant siege of the northern Shiite town, Amerli. According to a report in Businessweek, U.S. airstrikes at Islamic State positions preceded the Iraqi offensive to liberate Amerli.
The health office in Kirkuk reported that two members of the peshmerga Kurdish forces and seven Iraqi government troop members were killed in the attack. Also, aid was dropped to residents of the beleaguered town, whose population is predominantly Shiite, by U.S., Iraqi, Australian and U.K. forces.
In June, Islamic State (IS) Sunni militants captured the largest northern city in Iraq, Mosul. From there, IS announced that they established a state in Iraq and Syria, a strong base from which to work out of in the ongoing civil war. Iraqi forces and peshmerga fighters, with the assistance of U.S. airstrikes, are attempting to take back towns and land that the ISIL forces took.
According to Iraqi security spokesman Qassim Ata, the loudspeakers of mosques in villages near Amerli were used to order their soldiers to withdraw from the town that had been under siege.
U.S. led airstrikes have been already used before during the civil war against Islamic State forces and have greatly aided the Iraqi forces. Also, U.S. military planes have dropped humanitarian aid in the area of Mount Sinjar to the thousands of Yezidi civilians, a minority group in Iraq, who had sought safety and had been trapped there.
President Barack Obama has authorized U.S. airstrikes but only on a limited basis to provide humanitarian aid and to protect American forces and other personnel and facilities in the country until Iraq has established a more “inclusive” government, one that represents the diverse religious and ethnic groups in Iraq better than the present one does.
In August, besides the U.S. authorization of airstrikes against IS militants, surveillance flights over Syria were also ordered. Also, this month Kurdish forces retook the Mosul Dam. In response, the IS militants have threatened attacks on “home countries” offering aid to the Iraqi government, prompting the U.K. to raise its terror threat level to the second-highest level, “severe.”
Currently, according to Kurdish lawmaker Ari Harsin, the peshmerga are advancing toward central Zummar. Progress is slow, however, as Islamic State militants have planted bombs along the route. Ten Kurdish fighters were killed by them so far and Harsin stated that “As many as 20 others were wounded.”
According to the mayor of Amerli, Adel al-Bayati, as reported in Egypt Independent, the breaking of the siege “will definitely relieve the suffering of residents.”
Turkmen lawmaker Fawzi Akram al-Tarzi stated that the Iraqi government forces, along with the Kurdish fighters and Shiite militias, entered Amerli from two different directions to distribute much-needed humanitarian aid.
More than 15,000 Shiite Turkmen had been trapped and under siege by the IS forces, who regarded the Shiite residents as being “apostates.” The Turkmen had managed to fend the IS militants off from entering Amerli and they had fortified the town with armed positions and trenches.
The IS militants had taken over large portions of northern Iraq, beginning in June, and earlier in August, they defeated Kurdish forces and were on the verge of entering the self-ruled portion of Iraq and advancing on the Kurdish regional capital of Irbil. That was one of the deciding factors that prompted the U.S. to assist the Iraqi government with airstrikes.
According to Iraqi Army spokesman Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, fighting was continuing in order “to clear the surrounding villages.” The operation to free Amerli began at dawn Sunday. Iraqi forces entered the town shortly after the noon hour and began distributing the humanitarian aid to the residents, who have struggled to survive without electricity and running water during the oppressive heat of August.
There were several reports that the townspeople of Amerli fired guns into the air in celebration of the siege being broken, by Iraqi forces with the assistance of U.S. airstrikes on Saturday and the dropping of aid by aircraft from France, Australia, and Britain. The Islamic State extremists have conducted numerous massacres and beheadings and have posted the results online as graphic photos and videos. While there remains much more fighting left to be done, the breaking of the siege of Amerli is a major step towards the ultimate defeat of the IS militants.
Written By Douglas Cobb