Kurd forces attack Islamic State fighters near regional capital
Iraqi government air strike on Sharia court kills 60 people, says military spokesman
Members of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) fire their weapon towards forces loyal to the Islamic State in the Syrian-Iraqi border town of Elierbeh of al-Hasakah Governorate. Photograph: Rodi Said/Reuters
Kurdish forces attacked Islamic State fighters (formerly known as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) near the Kurdish regional capital of Arbil in northern Iraq yesterday in a change of tactics supported by the Iraqi central government to try to break the Islamists’ momentum.
The attack 40km southwest of Arbil came after the Sunni militants inflicted a humiliating defeat on the Kurds on Sunday with a rapid advance through three towns, prompting Iraq’s prime minister to order his airforce 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 the Islamic State in Makhmur,” said Jabbar Yawar, secretary general of the ministry in charge of the Kurdish peshmerga fighters.
The location of the clashes puts the Islamic State fighters closer than they have ever been to the Kurdish semi- autonomous region since they swept through northern Iraq almost unopposed in June.
Shortly after that lightning advance, thousands of US-trained Iraqi soldiers fled. Kurdish fighters, who boast of their battles against Saddam Hussein’s forces, stepped in as did Iranian-trained Shia militias. But the Islamic State gunmen’s defeat of the peshmerga, whose name means “those who confront death”, has called into question their reputation as fearsome warriors.
The Islamic State poses the biggest threat to Iraq’s security since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
The group, which believes Shias are infidels who deserve to be killed, has won the support of some Sunnis who don’t agree with their ideology but share a fierce determination to topple prime minister Nuri al-Maliki.
Mr Maliki, a Shia, is seen as an authoritarian figure with a sectarian agenda whose alienation of Sunnis is destabilising.
Iraq, an Opec member, has returned to the dark days of 2006-2007 when a civil war peaked. Bombings, kidnappings and executions have again become part of daily life.
Yesterday, 60 people were killed by an Iraqi government air strike on a Sharia court set up by Islamic State militants in a juvenile prison in Mosul, the office of Mr Maliki’s military spokesman said.
The Islamic State judge who ran the court that routinely orders beheadings, was among those killed in the northern Iraqi city, the spokesman said.
Hospital officials and witnesses said earlier the strike killed 50 people in a prison set up by the Islamic State, making no mention of the court.
In Baghdad, car bombs exploded in crowded markets in several Shia districts, killing 47 people, police said. A roadside bomb killed three Shias who volunteered to fight the Islamic State on a road between the town of Samarra and Mosul, a police official said.
In Taji, 20km north of Baghdad, authorities found the bodies of six people who had been handcuffed and shot in the head and chest execution- style, medical sources said.
The Islamic State has declared a caliphate in swathes of Iraq and Syria that it controls, and threatens to march on Baghdad. Islamic State fighters and their Sunni militant and tribal allies also hold parts of western Iraq.
Mr Maliki has ordered his airforce to help the Kurds in their fight against the Islamic State, which seized an array of weapons including tanks and anti-aircraft guns from the Iraqi soldiers who fled in June.
Mr Maliki was at odds with the Kurds over oil, budgets and land, but both sides put their differences aside, alarmed by the Islamic State’s latest gains – a fifth oilfield and three more towns in the north. The group also reached Iraq’s biggest dam.
Mr Yawar confirmed the Kurds had re-established military cooperation with Baghdad. “The peshmerga ministry sent a message to the Iraqi defence ministry requesting the convening of an urgent meeting on military cooperation. The joint committees have been reactivated,” he said.
Mr Maliki, who has been serving in a caretaker capacity since an inconclusive election in April, has rejected calls by Kurds, Sunnis, some fellow Shias and even regional power-broker Iran to step aside and make room for a less polarising figure.
In his weekly televised address to the nation yesterday, he warned that any unconstitutional attempt to form a new government would open “the gates of hell” in Iraq.
Mr Maliki rejected any outside interference in the process, an apparent reference to Tehran, which Iranian officials have said, believes he can no longer hold Iraq together.
Iran is now backing calls by Iraq’s top cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani for Mr Maliki to look for an alternative leader to combat the Sunni Islamist insurgency, officials said.