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Peshmerga make inroads against Islamic State in Iraq

Backed by US strikes, Iraqi Kurds manage to beat back IS in northern Iraq
Peshmerga fighters win back control of strategically important towns in Iraq (AFP)

Kurdish Peshmerga fighters continued their offensive against Islamic State militants in Iraq, making inroads into IS-held territory and seizing several strategically key towns, Kurdish military sources said.

Officials told Al Jazeera that the Peshmerga, backed by US airstrikes, captured Telsqof, about 15 kilometres east of the Mosul dam early on Sunday morning and were continuing their advance.

“With the help of American fighter jets the Peshmerga launched a wide-ranging attack this morning, we have taken Telsqof and Risala villages and we are moving towards the Mosul dam,” a Peshmerga commander in the area told Kurdish news agency Rudaw.

The commander said that IS militants, who launched a mass offensive in Iraq in early June, were finally retreating.

“But we are moving carefully because the Islamist militants have left explosives behind and we want to minimise our losses,” the commander added, while stressing that his forces were determined to retake the Mosul dam that fell to IS two weeks ago.

“The assault will continue until we retake Zumar and Shingal as well,” he said, referring to two towns where IS had clashed with Peshmerga earlier this month.

IS had made spectacular gains in recent weeks, pushing back the Peshmerga and sending hundreds of thousands of Iraqis fleeing north to the autonomous Kurdish region. However, since US President Barack Obama authorised airstrikes against IS positions on 8 August and began arming the Peshmerga, the tide seems to have turned against IS.

But the increasing US, as well as European, support for Iraq’s Kurds has caused resentment in Baghdad with IS still trying to push south toward the Iraqi capital.

Officials now say that support for only one side may further propel the state’s disintegration and plunge the region into further disarray.

There are also rising concerns that recent Peshmerga gains will push Iraqi Kurds to seek outright independence.

On Sunday, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who has recently returned from the region, warned against any push for independence, saying that the international community must work toward ensuring stability.

"An independent Kurdish state would further destabilise the region and trigger new tensions, maybe with the neighbouring Iraqi state as well," he told the Bild newspaper in an interview.

The aim, he added, "was to manage to preserve Iraq's territorial integrity".

According to another German news publication, Der Spiegel, the German government is now considering international military intervention in northern Iraq, although the source stressed that Germany would only take part if the mission was carried out under the aegis of the United Nations.

Germany and France were both vocally against the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 which failed to secure a UN endorsement. 

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