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Kurdish forces retake control of major town in northern Iraq
The Kurdish security forces on Sunday took over most of the town of Sinjar in Iraq's northern province of Nineveh, Kurdish official website and a security source said.
The military move came one day after the security forces gained foothold in the town as fierce clashes continued with the Islamic State (IS) militants inside and around it.
Heavy gunfire and loud explosion continued during the day in Sinjar, as the Kurdish forces, known as Peshmerga, were fighting to free the remaining small pockets inside the town, some 100 km west of Nineveh's provincial capital city of Mosul, said the official website of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), a major Kurdish party led by the regional President Masoud Barzani.
Teams of explosive experts defused many landmines, roadside bombs and booby trapped buildings which extremist militants planted in the town, the website said.
"The terrorists planted a lot of landmines and bombs in the houses and the streets of the town, but immediately after we entered the town we started cleaning," the website quoted Qasim Shasho, a Peshmerga leader in the town, as saying.
Shasho also said that his troops found a mass grave in a village outside the town containing 70 to 80 bodies, most of whom were women and children, according to the website.
A Kurdish security source told Xinhua that the Peshmerga forces managed to free several neighborhoods in central Sinjar, including the government building, where the Kurdish fighters raised the flag of Kurdistan region.
On Saturday, the Peshmerga, backed by U.S.-led coalition aircraft, advanced in the early morning hours from three directions in the area between towns of Rabia and Sinjar before they enter Sinjar and seized part of it.
The battles in Sinjar are part of a major offensive launched on Wednesday when thousands of Peshmerga fighters retook the control of the town of Zumar, some 70km northwest of Mosul, and then the nearby town of Sunoni on Friday.
The main target of the offensive was to seize the town of Sinjar after seizing the roads and villages leading to the town, which is home to the Iraqi minority of Yazidis who have been displaced several months ago.
The Yazidi minority are primarily ethnic Kurds whose religion incorporates elements of many faiths. There are about 600,000 Yazidis left in Iraq with around 80 percent of them living in the towns of Sinjar and Bashika in the Nineveh province.
Sinjar, Zumar and Sunoni are parts of the disputed areas of mixed ethnicities of Kurds, Arabs, Turkmans and others.
The Kurds demanded the expansion of their sovereign region in northern Iraq to include the oil-rich province of Kirkuk and other areas in the Iraqi provinces of Nineveh, Salahudin and Diyala, but their request was fiercely opposed by the Iraqi government.
Earlier in June, the Peshmerga took control of the disputed areas, including the northern city of Kirkuk, after the Iraqi security forces withdrew from their bases following the June 10 blitzkrieg of the Sunni militant groups, including the IS group, where they seized several territories in the predominantly Sunni provinces.
[Source: Xinhua, Baghdad, 21Dec14]
War in Iraq
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