A Peshmerga soldier looks through binoculars from a position as he looks across a canal toward Islamist Jihadist positions on August 17, 2014, south of the oil hub city of Kirkuk. AFP Photo/Marwan Ibrahim
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Kurdish fighters are advancing towards the militant-held city of Mosul, aiming to reverse gains by Islamic State insurgents, witnesses and a Kurdish peshmerga commander said on Sunday.Peshmerga spokesman Halgurd Hikmat said U.S. planes -- deployed over Iraq for the first time since the U.S. troop withdrawal in 2011 because of the Islamic State's alarming advances -- had been striking targets near Mosul Dam over the last 24 hours.Witnesses said Kurdish forces have recaptured the mainly Christian towns of Batmaiya and Telasqaf, 30 km (18 miles) from Mosul, the closest they have come to the city since Islamic State fighters drove government forces out in June.The Kurds, who live in a semi-autonomous region in the north of Iraq, have long dreamed of independence from central governments in Baghdad which oppressed the non-Arab ethnic group for decades under former dictator Saddam Hussein.Proclaiming a caliphate straddling parts of Iraq and Syria, Islamic State militants have swept across northern Iraq, pushing back Kurdish regional forces and driving tens of thousands of Christians and members of the Yazidi religious minority from their homes.
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