Near Makhmour, Iraq: Buoyed by US airstrikes, Kurdish peshmerga fighters said they pushed back an attempt by the Islamic extremists to overrun one of their artillery positions on the northern edge of the dust-blown town of Makhmour, south of Erbil. Makhmour was seized by fighters of the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant on Thursday.
Earlier thousands of desperate Iraqi Yazidis who have been trapped by Islamist extremists on a parched mountaintop for almost a week, trekked into Syrian territory controlled by Kurds, seeking refuge in another war-ravaged country.
Shawkat Barbahari, an official from the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, put the number of people who escaped the siege and crossed back into Iraqi Kurdistan at 30,000.
‘‘The Kurdish peshmerga forces have succeeded in making 30,000 Yazidis who fled Mount Sinjar, most of them women and children, cross into Syria and return to Kurdistan,’’ said Barbahari, who is in charge of the Fishkhabur crossing with Syria.
‘‘Most of them crossed yesterday and today, this operation is ongoing and we really don’t know how many are still up there on the mountain,’’ he said.
MP Vian Dakhil, who is from the Yazidi minority, said 20,000 to 30,000 had managed to flee and were now in Iraqi Kurdistan.
‘‘20,000 to 30,000 have managed to flee Mount Sinjar but there are still thousands on the mountain,’’ she said. ‘‘They have arrived in Kurdistan.
‘‘The passage isn’t 100 per cent safe. There is still a risk,’’ she added, as the international community ramped up efforts to provide food and water by air drops to those still stranded.
Of those escaping some managed to collect water and food that had been dropped by US planes before heading north-west on a 18 kilometre walk across mountains and desert to the Syrian border. There, Syrian Kurdish forces waited to transport them to refugee camps or to safe crossings back into the Kurdish region of Iraq.
Mount Sinjar had become a prison for as many as 40,000 civilians who fled to its barren peaks to escape Islamic State fighters who seized the surrounding area last weekend. The Yazidis' plight - and warnings that children and the elderly were dying - caused international outrage and prompted Washington to conduct humanitarian airdrops for the stranded Yazidis and airstrikes against the militants, to prevent what President Barack Obama described as an attempted genocide.
The followers of the ancient Yazidi religion are particularly vulnerable to the ISIL extremists, who consider the sect's members apostates and have vowed to exterminate them.
Saleh Mehdi Abbas, 31, said his family was one of around 300 trekking toward the Syrian border. "We are all marching," he said in a telephone interview. "Now we are in the desert and near the Syrian border. We just hope that there are vehicles there to pick us up. We can't go much longer."
A United Nations spokesman said he could not confirm that an evacuation was taking place. However, the International Rescue Committee said that it was providing emergency medical care for up to 4000 dehydrated Yazidis who had arrived in a refugee camp in Syria's Hasakah province.
Iraqi Kurdish forces are repelling Islamic State advances on the southern side of the mountain, while the evacuation route on the mountain's northern side is being organised by the fighters from the Kurdistan Workers' Party and its Syrian spin-off, the Popular Protection Units, or YPG. The party is better known by its Kurdish acronym PKK, and it is designated a terrorist group by the United States, creating a diplomatic problem for Barack Obama.
Many of the secular and leftist PKK's fighters are women, in stark contrast to ISIL.
While Kurdish forces were buoyed by airstrikes to the east around Erbil, commanders said ISIL fighters had begun to return to positions that US airstrikes had forced them to flee - a reminder that the so-far limited intervention may represent only the beginning of what President Obama warned could be a long campaign. Hours later, the US military announced it had carried out four more airstrikes, in the Sinjar area further west from where the Yazidi were trapped.
Washington Post. AFP