KIRKUK, Iraq: Iraqi forces broke through yesterday to the jihadist-besieged Shia town of Amerli, where thousands of people have been trapped for more than two months with dwindling food and water supplies.
It is the biggest offensive success for the Iraqi government since militants led by the Sunni jihadist group Islamic State (IS) overran large areas of five provinces in June, sweeping security forces aside.
The breakthrough came as the United States carried out limited strikes in the area, the first time it has expanded its more than three-week air campaign against militants outside of Iraq’s north.
Aircraft from several countries also dropped humanitarian aid to Amerli.
The mainly Shia Turkmen residents of the town in Salaheddin province were running desperately short of food and water, and endangered both because of their Shia faith, which jihadists consider heresy, and their resistance to the militants, which has drawn harsh retribution elsewhere.
UN Iraq envoy Nickolay Mladenov had warned that they faced a “massacre” by the besieging militants. “Our forces entered Amerli and broke the siege,” Iraqi security spokesman Lieutenant General Qassem Atta told AFP, an account confirmed by a local official and a fighter from the town.
“It is a very important success,” Atta later said on state television.
Colonel Mustafa Al Bayati said last night that the town of Amerli was “completely secure”, but clashes were still ongoing in villages to its west.
The operation to free Amerli was launched on Saturday after days of preparations in which Iraqi security forces, Shia militiamen and Kurdish fighters deployed for the assault and Iraqi aircraft carried out strikes against militants. Kurdish fighters and Shia militiamen, meanwhile, clashed with militants who hold Sulaiman Bek and Yanakaja, north of Amerli.
The fighting killed two members of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces.