UPDATE 4:15 p.m. EDT: German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said enough weapons to arm 4,000 Kurds would be sent to northern Iraq to fight Islamic State militants and keep them from destabilizing the Middle East, Reuters reported.
UPDATE: 2:45 p.m. EDT: In Baghdad 37 people were killed when a suicide bomber rammed an explosives-packed Humvee into a construction site used by the army and police, two police officers and a medical official told Reuters. The blast killed 22 security personnel and 15 civilians, the medical and police sources said.
Iraqi security forces, Shiite militias and Kurdish peshmerga troops broke the 2-month-old seige of the city of Amerli by Islamic State militants, officials said. Mayor Adel Al-Bayati said fighting continued north of Amerli.
“Our forces entered Amerli and broke the seige,” Iraqi security representative Lt. Gen. Qassem Atta told Agence France-Presse.
Al Jazeera reported residents of the town, mostly farmers, dug trenches and repelled three assaults by the militant group formerly known as ISIS before help arrived. The advance followed U.S. airstrikes Saturday against militant targets and an airdrop of humanitarian aid to trapped residents. Britain, France and Australia participated in the relief effort.
Pentagon representative Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement the U.S. action had been requested by Baghdad. Thousands of residents threatened mass suicide if the extremists broke through, Al Jazeera reported.
“In every three to four houses, we have dug graves. If the Islamic State storms our town, everyone will be killing their wives and children, and they will bury them,” Mehdi, a government employee reached by phone in Amerli, told the Qatari broadcaster. “They say, ‘We don’t want to end up in the hands of the Islamic State, being enslaved like those in Sinjar mountain. ... We don’t want the Islamic State to lay their hands on us.’”
Reports surfaced Saturday the Islamic State had sold Yazidi women to its fighters.
Amerli residents expressed relief as the seige was broken. “Everyone in Amerli saw the bombardment from their houses,” Mustafa Hassan Tayyeb, a resident of Amerli and a colonel in the Iraqi army, told the Washington Post by phone.
“I can see the tanks of the Iraqi army patrolling Amerli’s street now. I’m very happy we got rid of the Islamic State terrorists who were threatening to slaughter us,” Amerli resident Amir Ismael told Reuters by phone.
The successful assault began with attacks on Sunni towns near Amerili. The Islamic State encircled the town of 15,000 populated by Shiite Turkmen, whom the militants consider apostates. The seige began as jihadists overran a large swath of territory spanning Syria and northern Iraq this summer.