Iraqi Kurds join Kobani fight against IS

US forces launch air strikes on border town as Kurds and militants engage in clashes

Smoke rises after a US air strike on the town of Kobani. Photograph: Reuters/Umit Bektas

Smoke rises after a US air strike on the town of Kobani. Photograph: Reuters/Umit Bektas

 

Iraqi Kurdish fighters have joined the fight against Islamic State (IS) militants in Kobani, hoping their support for fellow Kurds backed by United States- led air strikes will keep the ultra-hardline group from seizing the Syrian border town.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said heavy clashes erupted in Kobani and both sides had suffered casualties, while the US military said it had launched more air raids on IS over the weekend.

Idriss Nassan, deputy minister for foreign affairs in Kobani district, said Iraqi Kurds using long-range artillery had joined the battle on Saturday night against IS, which holds parts of Syria and Iraq as part of an ambition to redraw the map of the Middle East.

“The peshmerga [fighters] joined the battle late yesterday and it made a big difference with their artillery. It is proper artillery,” he said.

“We didn’t have artillery we were using mortars and other locally made weapons. So this is a good thing.”

Nassan did not elaborate and it was not immediately possible to verify that progress against IS had been made.

The arrival of the 150 Iraqi fighters marks the first time Turkey has allowed troops from outside Syria to reinforce Syrian Kurds, who have been defending Kobani for more than 40 days.

Semi-heavy weapons

An eyewitness said fighting yesterday was heavier than in the previous two days, noting a strike in the late morning and the sound of three explosions.

Attention has focused on Kobani, seen as a key test of the effectiveness of US air strikes, and of whether combined Kurdish forces can fend off IS, an al- Qaeda offshoot made up of Arabs and foreign fighters.

Air strikes have helped to foil several attempts by IS to take over Kobani but they have done little to stop the militants’ advances, particularly in Sunni areas of western Iraq, where IS has been executing hundreds of members of a tribe that resisted its territorial gains.

US military forces staged seven attacks on IS targets in Syria over the weekend and were joined by allies in two more attacks in Iraq, the US central command said.

In the Kobani area, five strikes hit five small IS units, while two strikes near Dayr Az Zawr, 240km to the southeast in Syria, destroyed an IS tank and vehicle shelters.

US and partner nations hit small IS units near the Iraqi cities of Baiji and Falluja.

Sunni militants

While the Kurds have retaken some territory with the support of US air strikes in the north, IS faces limited resistance in Iraq’s western Anbar province, where its militants last week executed more than 300 hundred members of the Albu Nimr tribe because it had defied the group for weeks.

The Iraqi government said IS had killed 322 members of the tribe, including dozens of women and children whose bodies were dumped in a well.

The systematic killings, which one tribal leader said were continuing yesterday, marked some of the worst bloodshed in Iraq since the Sunni militants swept through the north in June.

The Albu Nimr, also Sunni, had put up fierce resistance against IS for weeks but finally ran low on ammunition, food and fuel last week as IS fighters closed in on their village at Zauiyat Albu Nimr.

Since IS declared a caliphate in large areas of Syria and Iraq in June, the militants have lost hundreds if not thousands of fighters in battles against other Sunni rebels, Islamist groups, forces loyal to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and in air strikes. –(Reuters)