Iraqi, Kurdish forces try to rout ISIS in two towns

Kurdish forces backed by U.S. airpower, Iraqi troops supported by Iraqi fighter planes attempt to recapture Jalawla and Saadiya

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Iraqi government forces and Kurdish peshmerga fighters attempted on Friday to recapture two towns in the north from Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants, Reuters reported security sources as saying.

The Kurdish forces, backed by U.S. airpower, took one district near the eastern entrance to Jalawla, 115 kilometeres northeast on Baghdad, the site of weeks of clashes, the sources said.

Iraqi troops supported by Iraqi fighter planes were advancing towards the nearby town of Saadiya, the security sources said. Both towns are near the Iranian border and the semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

“The peshmerga advanced on Jalawla from several directions” before dawn, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party official Shirko Mirwais said, adding that they had already taken back several positions, cutting off the militants.

He said nine peshmerga had been wounded in the fighting but could not say how many had been killed.

Also on Friday, Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said that all sides agreed on the need to form a “proper” government in Baghdad and repeated his call on compatriots to fight ISIS insurgents, calling it a “big honor.”

Sistani spoke through an aide after Friday prayer sermons in the sacred Shiite Muslim city of Kerbala.

He expressed concern over the plight of about 18,000 Shiites in the town of Amerli who are surrounded by ISIS militants.

About 700,000 Iraqis have gathered in the Kurdish north after being driven from their homes by ISIS, the United Nations said Friday as it stepped up a massive aid operation to the region.

“The Kurdistan region of Iraq is now hosting close to 700,000 displaced Iraqis, most having arrived in early June,” Adrian Edwards, spokesman for the U.N.'s refugee agency, told reporters in Geneva.

Earlier this week, the UNHCR had put the number at around 600,000, but it is unclear how many of the additional 100,000 were new arrivals and how many had arrived earlier but only been registered in recent days.

In a related story, U.S. military officials said Thursday that ISIS militants cannot be defeated through Iraq alone, but must be taken on in Syria by the U.S. or its allies.

In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad’s forces sent reinforcements to an air base being attacked by ISIS in northeast Syria where no fewer than 30 of the radical group’s fighters were killed on Thursday.

(With Reuters and AFP)

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