Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces, aided by U.S.-led airstrikes, retook control of huge chunks of territory around Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq from the Islamic State group late on Sunday, according to media reports. Mount Sinjar, which is located near the Syrian border, was populated mainly by members of the Yazidi community before an onslaught by ISIS forced them to flee.
“Peshmerga forces continue to advance inside Sinjar, engaging and suppressing ISIS positions,” a spokesperson for the Kurdistan Regional Government reportedly said, adding that nearly 300 ISIS militants have been killed since fighting in the region began Wednesday.
Masoud Barzani, president of Iraqi Kurdistan, reportedly said: “We have managed to free 3,000 sq km during the last 24 hours … during the past 48 hours, the peshmerga opened two main routes to Mount Sinjar,” adding: “Most of Sinjar is under our control now and with the help of God, we will free all of it.”
Over the weekend, peshmerga fighters also delivered aid to the Yazidis -- persecuted by ISIS for being “devil worshippers” -- and opened a corridor to allow those trapped on top of the mountain to leave, according to media reports. Since the start of the conflict in the region, tens of thousands of Yazidis have either fled across the border to Syria, or have moved west, beyond the ISIS-controlled Iraqi cities of Mosul and Tal Afar.
Meanwhile, farther down south, ISIS militants reportedly recaptured Baiji -- a city that is home to the country’s largest oil refinery and is located on the route connecting Baghdad to Mosul -- over the weekend, according to media reports. Iraqi forces have reportedly retreated to towns surrounding Baiji, barely a month after they entered the strategically and economically important town.