AFTER A TWO-DAY BATTLE, Kurdish forces announced today that they had liberated the strategic Iraqi town of Sinjar from the Islamic State. The forces consisted of Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga and militias affiliated with the Syria-based YPG, as well as the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
Sinjar last year was overrun by ISIS militants, who carried out a genocidal campaign of murder and enslavement against the Yazidi religious minority living in the area. In a press conference called near Sinjar in the aftermath of the battle, Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani said, “I congratulate the people of Kurdistan, especially the Yazidis,” adding that the Kurdish factions had “delivered on our pledge to liberate Sinjar.”
The ground attack to liberate Sinjar was predated by a sustained coalition-led bombing campaign against ISIS targets in and around the town. Initial reports have stated that ISIS failed to put up serious resistance to the Kurdish forces, with their defenses collapsing far more quickly than had been expected. U.S. officials had initially given a time frame of up to two weeks for the battle. Video footage today of Kurdish fighters entering the town has shown massive destruction to its infrastructure from the weeks of strikes, including bombed-out buildings, charred vehicles and cratered streets.
In addition to dealing a symbolic blow to ISIS’ nascent state, the loss of Sinjar also severs a vital supply link between Mosul and Raqqa, the two major urban centers that have come under the control of the group. U.S. forces are backing the Kurdish factions in an ongoing offensive intended to cut off the two cities from one another, in preparation for the ultimate objective of retaking them with the help of local ground forces. In a press conference held yesterday while operations were still ongoing, Pentagon spokesperson Peter Cook said that there is “a specific effort to target this one supply line, this critical supply line, between Raqqa and Mosul,” adding that cutting off the two cities “would have an impact on ISIL in its operations, particularly in Iraq.”
For now, the capture of Sinjar looks to be another major victory for the Kurdish nationalist movement, similar in nature to the now-iconic victory over Islamic State forces in the Syrian town of Kobani earlier this year. Although the militias that took part in the Sinjar operation come from across the spectrum of Kurdish politics, and are themselves largely disunited, the Iraqi central government was notably absent from this major battle on its own territory.
“Sinjar is very important because it has become a symbol of the injustice against the people of Kurdistan,” Barzani said in his statement today, adding that “aside from the Kurdistan flag, we do not accept any other flag rising over Sinjar.”