Barzani Appeals For International Military Aid As Peshmerga Forces Fightback Against ISIL

Peshmerga forcesThe political leader of Iraq’s Kurds, Massoud Barzani, has appealed for international military aid to help defeat Islamist militants.

Mr Barzani was speaking alongside French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who was in Iraq for crisis talks with Iraqi and Kurdish officials.

“We are not fighting a terrorist organisation, we are fighting a terrorist state,” said Mr Barzani, the president of the Kurdish regional government.

“The weapons they possess are more advanced than what the Peshmerga have,” he added.

“What we are asking our friends to do is to provide support and to co-operate with us in providing the necessary weapons that would enable us to defeat these terrorist groups,” he said

Islamist extremists who have overrun swaths of Iraq made a rare retreat in an area hit by U.S. airstrikes and gave up some territory they had won from Kurdish forces, in an early sign of impact from the three-day-old American campaign.

But the country’s constitutional crisis deepened as the prime minister denounced the president and security forces were deployed across the capital, raising concerns over another U.S. goal seeing an orderly change in Iraqi leadership. After a legal deadline to nominate a new prime minister passed at midnight, incumbent Nouri al-Maliki’s own party agreed to name a candidate to replace him, amid fears that he intended to prevent such a development by force or intimidation. Mr. Maliki had not agreed to step aside.

U.S. officials said they were alarmed by Mr. Maliki’s fiery speech Sunday and, in particular, his call for the Iraqi army to protect the country’s Constitution.

Meanwhile, the U.S. attacked the radical Sunni group Islamic State for a third straight day, and said the airstrikes appear to have slowed the insurgents’ rapid advance over the past week toward Erbil, the capital of the semiautonomous Kurdistan region. So far, the primary focus of the strikes has been on the forces closing in on the city, where Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have been struggling to turn back the offensive.

“ISIL is starting to realize there are consequences to using heavy artillery and equipment near Erbil,” said one senior U.S. defense official. “It’s going to slow them down and give the Pesh time to fortify lines with supplies they’re getting from the Iraqi military and from the U.S.”

Despite signs of some progress in repelling the Islamic State’s advance, the State Department said the U.S. relocated “a limited number” of staff from the U.S. consulate in Erbil to the U.S. consulate in Basra, Iraq, and to Amman, Jordan.

The conquests by the insurgents have sparked a humanitarian disaster and prompted the first U.S. military intervention in Iraq in three years.

The U.S. said its airstrikes also appear to have helped loosen the Islamic State’s grip around Mount Sinjar, where thousands of members of the Yazidi religious minority have been trapped for days. The Islamic State considers the Yazidis apostates who deserve to be killed.

The Kurdish advance has restored hope that at least one fighting force in the region is still capable of confronting an Islamist juggernaut that cowed Iraq’s U.S.-trained military and quickly snatched more than a quarter of the country during its blitz toward Baghdad in June.

Since then, Iraqi forces have been unable to reclaim even modest tracts of land.

“We cleared up Makhmour and Gwair of Islamic State militants and 25 villages around it,” said a security official for the Peshmerga, the Kurdish soldiers who make up a somewhat independent contingent within Iraq’s army. “We have flown the Kurdistan flag again in the center of Makhmour.”

The Peshmerga fought for several days to retake the two towns, said Kurdish security officers. Though Kurdish soldiers are known to be better trained and equipped than other Iraqi troops, they were at first overwhelmed by the Islamic State’s superior weapons, many of which had been pilfered from retreating Iraqi troops in June.

“Peshmerga had cleared up Makhmour and Gwair after a severe bloody fight with the Islamist State that led to the killing of many Islamic State fighters,” said Bashar Al Kiki, the head of the provincial council of Nineveh, adding others retreated under Iraqi airstrikes.

President Barack Obama said he ordered the airstrikes to protect U.S. diplomatic and military officials in Erbil and to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe involving the Yazidis,

Iraq’s government and Yazidi leaders estimate that as many as 15,000 adherents are stranded on Mount Sinjar, a ridge outside the Kurdish city of Sinjar that Islamic State fighters also seized in last week’s assault.

The U.S. has dropped thousands of parcels of food and water on the mountain since Thursday to keep the Yazidis alive amid soaring summer temperatures. But more than 500 have already died from killings, dehydration and starvation, according to Kamal Ameen, a spokesman for Iraq’s Ministry of Human Rights.

 

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