Middle East

Iraq crisis: Kurds retake strategic mountain from IS

Media captionKurdish forces were jubilant after recapturing Mount Zartak, says Jim Muir

Kurdish forces in northern Iraq have recaptured a strategically important mountain from Islamic State (IS) militants, helped by US air strikes.

Mount Zartak overlooks a plain that stretches to Mosul, the city seized by IS in June.

The mountain fell to the Islamists last month when they staged a lightning attack on Iraqi Kurdistan.

Since then Kurdish "peshmerga" fighters have been slowly pushing back, assisted by US air power.

Mosul is a mainly Sunni city which Kurdish forces say they do not intend to recapture on their own.

The BBC's Jim Muir in Iraq says Mount Zartak was retaken in a short, sharp battle that left more than 30 IS fighters dead.

Under the gun

The Kurdish forces said US air strikes had made a "big difference".

Nearby villages still occupied by the Islamic militants are now at the mercy of Kurdish guns that dominate the entire plain of Nineveh, our correspondent adds.

The commander of the Kurdish elite commandos who took the mountain, Gene Aziz Oweisi, told the BBC that its capture was important, not only for the defence of Kurdistan.

"For the Iraqis it's important too because it's a step towards taking back Mosul," he said.

Last week, Iraqi state media said senior Islamic State military commander Abu Alaa al-Iraqi had been killed in an air strike on Mosul, along with an aide to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Neither death has been confirmed.

IS, also known as Isis, has taken over swathes of Iraq and Syria in recent months, declaring the land it holds a "caliphate".

The United Nations and human rights groups have accused IS of committing atrocities, including mass killings of ethnic and religious minorities.