Kurdish forces retook Sunday two towns from Islamic militants that have seized large parts of northern Iraq in one of the first victories for a military force that until now has been in retreat, a senior Kurdish military official says.
Brig. Gen. Shirko Fatih said the Kurdish fighters were able to push the militants of the Islamic State group out of the villages of Makhmour and al-Gweir, some 27 miles from Irbil.
The victories by the radical Sunni militants that adhere to an extremist intolerant interpretation of Islam have sent tens of thousands of the country’s minorities fleeing from their homes in fear in a situation that has grabbed world attention.
The United States announced a fourth round of airstrikes Sunday against militant vehicles and mortars firing on Irbil as part of its small-scale series of attacks meant to discourage the Sunni fighters from endangering U.S. personnel near the Kurdish capital.
During a visit to Baghdad, France’s foreign minister said during that Paris will provide “several tons” of aid to hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people and called upon leaders in Baghdad to unite against Sunni militants who have seized large parts of the country.
Speaking at a press conference with Iraq’s acting Foreign Minister Hussain al-Shahristani, Laurent Fabius said his visit is aimed at boosting humanitarian efforts in northern Iraq, where tens of thousands of minority Yazidis have fled into the mountains and even into neighboring Syria to escape the extremist Islamic State group.
The actions of the militants may even constitute “crimes against humanity,” warned the European Union in a statement, in which it said it was “appalled by the rapid deterioration of the humanitarian situation.”
Britain for its part said its air force has already dropped water containers and solar lanterns over the Sinjar mountains where the Yazidis have taken refuge with little food and water. An ancient religion with links to Zoroastrianism, the Yazidis have been given a choice of converting to Islam or dying, by the militants.
U.S. fighter jets and drones have also attacked militants firing on the Yazidis around Sinjar, which is in the far west of the country near the Syrian border.
After Kurdish fighters opened a path to the border, thousands of Yazidis have been pouring across the river into Kurdish-controlled parts of Syria.
Those crossing told The Associated Press they had lost their sisters, daughters, children and their elderly parents, describing militants randomly spraying machine gun fire in their direction as they fled.
An Iraq human rights minister told Reuters that the militants have killed at least 500 Yizadis, including women and children — some of which were buried alive.
“We have striking evidence obtained from Yazidis fleeing Sinjar and some who escaped death, and also crime scene images that show indisputably that the gangs of the Islamic States have executed at least 500 Yazidis after seizing Sinjar,” Mohammed Shia al-Sudani said.
He added that around 300 women have been kidnapped as slaves.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.