Iraqi forces break Islamic State siege of Amerli: officials

Smoke billows during fighting between Iraqi security forces, backed by Turkmen Shi'ite fighters, and Islamic State (ISIS) Sunni militants in Amerli, some 160km north of Baghdad, on Aug 4, 2014. Iraqi forces on Sunday, Aug 31, 2014, broke through
Smoke billows during fighting between Iraqi security forces, backed by Turkmen Shi'ite fighters, and Islamic State (ISIS) Sunni militants in Amerli, some 160km north of Baghdad, on Aug 4, 2014. Iraqi forces on Sunday, Aug 31, 2014, broke through to the jihadist-besieged town of Amerli, where thousands of people have been trapped for more than two months with dwindling food and water, officials said. -- PHOTO: AFP

BAGHDAD (AFP) - Iraqi forces on Sunday broke through to the jihadist-besieged town of Amerli, where thousands of people have been trapped for more than two months with dwindling food and water, officials said.

"Our forces entered Amerli and broke the siege," security spokesman Lieutenant-General Qassem Atta told AFP.

Talib al-Bayati, an official responsible for a nearby area, also said that the siege of the Turkmen Shi'ite-majority town has been broken, as did Nihad al-Bayati, who had been fighting to defend the town against the jihadists.

Iraqi security forces, Shi'ite militiamen and Kurdish peshmerga fighters all took part in the operation, the biggest military success for Baghdad since a lightning jihadist-led offensive overran large parts of the country in June, sweeping security forces aside.

Iraqi forces later managed to stem the militant onslaught, but had since struggled to regain ground.

Residents of Amerli faced major shortages of food and water, and were in danger both because of their Shi'ite faith, which jihadists consider heresy, and their resistance to the militants, which has drawn harsh retribution elsewhere.

The United States announced that it carried out three air strikes in the Amerli area, the first time its more than three-week air campaign against jihadists in Iraq has been expanded outside the north.

Aircraft from the United States, Australia, France and the United Kingdom also dropped humanitarian aid to the town, the Pentagon announced on Saturday. Western aid for Amerli was slow in coming, however, with the burden of flying supplies and carrying out strikes in the area largely falling to Iraq’s fledging air forces. 

Pressure had been mounting from both inside and outside the country for an effort to help Amerli, with the UN envoy to Iraq warning that people there faced a “possible massacre” by the besieging militants.