Kurdish forces have begun pushing back against militant Sunni insurgents in the embattled northern region of Iraq, military officials said recently.
Rudaw reports that Kurdish Peshmerga forces recently entered Shangal in Iraq’s northern Nineveh Province.
The forces went on the offensive Sunday after fighters linked to the group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, captured Shangal and nearby Zumar.
“We decided to go on the offensive and fight the terrorists to the last breath,” Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani said Monday. “We have ordered the Peshmerga to attack the terrorists and enemies of Kurdistan with all their power.”
Kurdistan is a semi-autonomous region in Iraq.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has pledged to support the Kurdish counteroffensive with planes from Iraq’s air force.
CNN reports Kurdish forces have also managed to keep control of Iraq’s largest hydroelectric dam.
Although initial reports from the dam on the Tigris River in Mosul said that ISIS had seized control, the director of the dam said Monday that Peshmerga forces had successfully fended off an ISIS attack.
ISIS captured Mosul and other cities in northern Iraq in June and has since promised to establish a caliphate across Syria and Iraq, imposing strict Muslim law.
According to a recent story from The Associated Press, the group has targeted minority communities throughout the region.
One such minority is the Yazidis who live in the region near Shangal and practice an ancient religion. ISIS told the group they would have to convert to Islam or pay a tax and possibly face death.
Barzani pledged to defend the Yazidis, saying the Kurdish forces “will not relinquish an inch of Kurdistan and we will defend our dear Yazidi brothers and sisters.”
The U.S. State Department said it is monitoring the escalating situation in the region.
“The assault over the past 48 hours on territories along the border of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region and focusing on towns and villages populated by vulnerable minorities, demonstrates once again that this terrorist organization is a dire threat to all Iraqis, the entire region and the international community,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said of the ISIS offensive in a statement .
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