Middle East

Battle for Sinjar: IS-held town in Iraq 'liberated'

Media captionThe BBC's Jim Muir describes the scale of destruction inside Sinjar

Kurdish fighters have regained control of the strategic Iraqi town of Sinjar which had been held by Islamic State (IS) militants since last year.

"I am here to announce the liberation of Sinjar," Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani said near the town.

The BBC's Jim Muir reports from Sinjar that Kurdish Peshmerga troops are walking in the middle of the roads to avoid unexploded bombs by the roadside.

IS killed and enslaved thousands of Yazidis after seizing the town.

Some 7,500 Iraqi Kurdish fighters, backed by Yazidi militias and Turkish Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) rebels are taking part in the offensive.

At the scene: Jim Muir, BBC News, Sinjar

There is rubble all around: shoes, twisted cars, mangled trucks set on fire by air strikes.

You have to stay in the middle of the road - after all, IS are adept at leaving behind booby traps.

Long-term fighting by the Peshmergas, who managed to get back about 30% of Sinjar, and extensive damage by air strikes managed to cut off IS fighters from all sides bar one.

They appear to have escaped through the only route left open in the south. They could have fought for a very long time if they had chosen to put up resistance in the heavily-built town.

What happens after Sinjar key to fight against IS

Profile: Who are the Peshmerga?

Who are the Yazidis?

Meanwhile, at least 17 people have died in a suicide bomb attack in Baghdad.

The bomber targeted the funeral of a Shia militia member in the south-west of the Iraqi capital and wounded more than 40 people.

Also in Iraq, the army says it has launched an offensive to recapture the western city of Ramadi from IS - although some local sources say the advance has not yet happened.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Peshmerga fighters were greeted with scenes of devastation when they entered parts of Sinjar
Image copyright AP
Image caption They have been fighting to recapture Sinjar since it was seized by IS militants in August 2014

The offensive to retake Sinjar began at dawn on Thursday backed by US-led coalition air strikes.

Kurdish and Yazidi forces closed in on three fronts after coalition warplanes bombed IS positions, command-and-control facilities and weapons stores.

Within hours, they had successfully blocked Highway 47, the main supply road linking IS-held Mosul, to the east, and Raqqa, Islamic State's de facto capital in Syria, to the west, and secured three surrounding villages.

The Kurds estimated that there were almost 600 IS militants in Sinjar before the offensive began, but the coalition said they believed some 60 to 70 had been killed in Thursday's air strikes.

Media captionThe BBC's Jim Muir joined Kurdish forces on the front line before they entered Sinjar

Thousands of Yazidis were either killed or abducted by IS militants when they captured Sinjar in August 2015, but many more became trapped on nearby Mount Sinjar without food or water for days until they were rescued by Syrian Kurdish forces.

The risk of genocide was a key factor in the US decision to launch air strikes in Iraq.

Hussein Derbo, the head of a Peshmerga battalion made up of 440 Yazidis, told Reuters: "It is our land and our honour. They [IS] stole our dignity. We want to get it back."

Speaking on a visit to Tunisia, US Secretary of State John Kerry said the operation to retake Sinjar had "serious strategic implications, not to mention the fact that the Yazidis who have been attacked and murdered, slaughtered and driven up on to a mountain and who have been living terrible lives over this period of time, need the right to be able to return to their home".

Sinjar - a strategic town

Media captionWatch as the BBC explains the significance of Mount Sinjar
  • Situated in northern Iraq at the foot of Mount Sinjar, about 30 miles (50km) from the Syrian border
  • Highway 47, one of IS's most active supply lines, runs through the town
  • Area mainly inhabited by Kurdish-speaking Yazidis with Arab and Assyrian minorities
  • Islamic State militants attacked in August 2014
  • Some 50,000 Yazidis fled the town and became trapped on Mount Sinjar without food or water
  • Iraq: The minorities of Nineveh

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