Middle East

Kurds, ISIS clash near Kurdish regional capital

Members of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) prepare ammunition during clashes with forces loyal to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) in the Syrian-Turkish border town of Elierbeh of al-Hasakah Governorate August 5, 2014. (REUTERS/Rodi Said)

BAGHDAD: Kurdish forces attacked Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) fighters Wednesday just 40 kilometers southwest of the Kurdish regional capital of Arbil in northern Iraq, a senior Kurdish official told Reuters.

The attack came after ISIS militants inflicted a humiliating defeat on the Kurds Sunday with a rapid advance through three towns, prompting Iraq's prime minister to order his air force for the first time to back the Kurdish forces.

"We have changed our tactics from being defensive to being offensive. Now we are clashing with ISIS in Makhmur," said Jabbar Yawar, secretary-general of the ministry of the Kurdish peshmerga fighters.

The location of the clashes puts ISIS militants closer than they have ever been to the Kurdish semi-autonomous region since they swept through northern Iraq almost unopposed in June.

Yawar said the Kurds had re-established military cooperation with Baghdad. Ties had been strained between the Kurdish leadership and the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki over oil, budgets and land.

But the dramatic weekend offensive by the Sunni militants - who seized more towns, a fifth oilfield and Iraq's biggest dam - prompted them to bury their differences.

"The peshmerga ministry sent a message to the Iraqi Defense Ministry requesting the convening of an urgent meeting on military cooperation. The joint committees have been reactivated," said Yawar by telephone.

ISIS, which has declared a 'caliphate' in swath of Iraq and Syria that it controls and threatens to march on Baghdad, poses the biggest threat to OPEC member Iraq since a U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

ISIS fighters and their Sunni militant and tribal allies also hold parts of western Iraq.

ISIS, which believes Iraq's majority Shiites are infidels who deserve to be killed, seized three towns during their weekend offensive, including Sinjar, home to many of Iraq's Yazidi minority sect.

Yazidis, who are ethnic Kurds and followers of an ancient religion derived from Zoroastrianism, are at high risk of being executed because they are viewed by the ISIS Sunni militants as devil worshippers.

Yawar said 50,000 Yazidis now hiding on a mountain risked starving to death if they were not rescued within 24 hours.

"Urgent international action is needed to save them. Many of them, mainly the elderly, children and pregnant women, have (already) died," he said.

"We cant stop ISIS from attacking the people on the mountain because there is one paved road leading up to the mountain and it can be used by them. ISIS is trying to get to that road."





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