MOUNT SINJAR, Iraq (AFP) – Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani hailed victories over the Islamic State extremist group during a visit on Sunday to Mount Sinjar, which had been besieged by the militants for months.
The operation threatens the links between the city of Mosul, the main IS stronghold in Iraq, and territory the militant group controls in neighbouring Syria.
“During the past 48 hours, the peshmerga opened two main routes to Mount Sinjar,” Barzani said, adding that “we did not expect to achieve all these victories”.
In addition to breaking through to the mountain, “a large part of the centre of the town of Sinjar was also liberated”, he said, referring to an area to the mountain’s south.
The Kurdish regional president also said the peshmerga might participate in an operation to retake Mosul itself.
“We will take part if the Iraqi government asks us, and of course we will have our conditions,” he said, without specifying what they would be.
IS spearheaded a sweeping militant offensive that has overrun much of Iraq’s Sunni Arab heartland since June, presenting both an opportunity for territorial expansion and an existential threat to the country’s Kurdish region.
Multiple Iraqi divisions collapsed in the early days of the offensive, clearing the way for the Kurds to take control of a swathe of disputed northern territory that they have long wanted to incorporate into their region over Baghdad’s objections.
But after driving south towards Baghdad, IS then turned its attention to the Kurds, pushing them back toward their regional capital Arbil in a move that helped spark US air strikes against the extremists.
Backed by the strikes, which are now being carried out by a coalition of countries, Kurdish forces have clawed back significant ground from IS.
The conflict seems set to redraw the internal boundaries of Iraq in favour of broader Kurdish control in the north.
In his remarks on Mount Sinjar, Barzani said, “We will not leave an inch of the land of Kurdistan for (IS), and we will strike (IS) in any place it is located.”
Tens of thousands of members of the Yazidi religious minority were trapped by IS on the mountain for days in the searing August heat in a first siege that sparked fears of genocide.
That siege was broken and many of the civilians evacuated, but others stayed behind and were again besieged by the extremist group in October.