Iraqi Forces, Kurds Gain Ground Against IS

Iraqi Forces, Kurds Gain Ground Against ISIraqi Forces, Kurds Gain Ground Against IS

Iraqi government forces and Shia militias seized control of the strategic town of Jurf al-Sakhar near Baghdad from IS on Saturday and Kurdish fighters made gains in the north after heavy coalition air strikes against the militants.

Iraqi troops and their Shia allies broke the grip IS in Jurf al-Sakhar after months of fighting against insurgents determined to march on the capital.

“Our forces with the support of the volunteers are in total control over Jurf al-Sakhar now and the terrorists fled to the southwest areas of the town,” Reuters quoted a spokesman for security forces there as saying.

A victory could allow Iraqi forces to prevent the insurgents - positioned in several locations around Baghdad - from edging closer to the capital, sever connections to their strongholds in western Anbar province and stop them infiltrating the mainly Shia south.

The security officials said the insurgents fled to the two nearby villages of al-Farisiya and Hay al-Askari and were still attacking with sniper fire and mortars. Government forces were preparing for a major overnight operation against them.

In the latest fighting, 67 members of the Iraqi security forces and Shia militias as well as 300 IS fighters were killed, the officials said.

Speaking to state television in the town, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Iraqis forced out by fighting would soon return to their homes.

IS swept through northern Iraq in the summer, facing little resistance from US-trained government troops.

The al Qaeda offshoot then declared a caliphate and threatened to reach Baghdad.

Islamic State controls large parts of the Sunni heartland in Iraq’s western Anbar province, as well as swathes of Syria.

  Strategic IS Network at Stake

The insurgents have been moving fighters, weapons and supplies from western Iraq through secret desert tunnels to Jurf al-Sakhar, Iraqi officials have said. Now it appears government forces may be able to disrupt that network.

While Iraq’s army and Shia militias have resisted IS efforts to move closer to Baghdad, Kurdish forces have also gained ground, recapturing territory in the north.

The Kurds retook the town of Zumar and several nearby villages from early on Saturday after heavy coalition air strikes against the insurgents, security sources said.

If the Kurds manage to hold Zumar, that could enable them to disrupt IS supply lines to nearby towns and cities.

Zumar was one of the first Kurdish-controlled towns to be overrun in August by IS who went on to threaten the autonomous region’s capital, Arbil.

If the Kurds are able to keep Zumar, it would also make it easier for them to advance on Sinjar, where IS are besieging members of Iraq’s Yazidi minority on a mountain.

Helped by the air strikes, Kurds have regained ground but progress has been hampered by a lack of heavy weaponry and by homemade bombs and booby-traps laid by the militants.

Gains have been easily lost in the war against IS.

The Kurds claimed victory in Zumar in September, only to withdraw from the town again after suffering heavy losses.

In another village, Ayn al-Helwa, the peshmerga said 17 militants had been taken captive, all of them Sunni Turkmen.