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Thousands flee after clashes erupt in embattled Iraqi town

BAGHDAD (AP) – Thousands of people fled a northern Iraqi town amid fierce clashes between the army and a militia linked to a Kurdish separatist group, the military and local Iraqi Kurdish officials said on Monday.

At least 3,000 people left Sinjar and its surrounding areas, the officials said, and headed farther north toward the semi-autonomous Kurdish region to seek asylum. They left when clashes intensified on Monday between the Iraqi army and the YBS, a militia group with ties to the Turkish insurgent Kurdistan Worker’s Party, or PKK.

Many were Yazidis displaced during the 2014 Islamic State onslaught and are bracing for another round of violence after returning to their homes only a few years ago.

Most of the displaced were distributed across camps in the Kurdish region, said Director of the Migration and Crisis Response Department in Dohuk province, in the Kurdish-run region, Pir Dayan. The Kurdistan government has formed a committee to deal with the situation.

The violence erupted when the Iraqi military launched an operation late Sunday to clear the area of YBS forces, most of them comprising members from the Yazidi minority. By Monday, the fighting spread to other areas in Sinjar district.

Heavy smoke billows during an operation by Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by United States-led strikes in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar. PHOTO: AFP