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Iraqi forces break militant siege of Shiite Turkmen town

| Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014, 11:20 p.m.

BAGHDAD — Iraqi security forces and Shiite militiamen on Sunday broke a six-week siege imposed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria extremist group on the northern Shiite Turkmen town of Amirli.

In Anbar western province, a suicide bombing killed 14 people, officials said.

Army spokesman Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said the Amirli operation started at dawn, and the forces entered the town shortly after midday.

Speaking live on state TV, Moussawi said the forces suffered “some casualities” but did not give a specific number. He said fighting was “still ongoing to clear the surrounding villages.”

Breaking the siege was a “big achievement and an important victory” he said, for all involved: the Iraqi army, elite troops, Kurdish peshmerga and Shiite militias.

Turkmen lawmaker Fawzi Akram al-Tarzi said they entered the town from two directions and were distributing aid to residents.

About 15,000 Shiite Turkmens were stranded in the farming community, about 105 miles north of Baghdad. Instead of fleeing in the face of the Islamic State's rampage across northern Iraq in June, the Shiite Turkmens fortified their town with trenches and armed positions.

Residents succeeded in fending off the initial attack in June, but Amirli has been surrounded by the terrorists since mid-July. Many residents said the Iraqi military's efforts to fly in food, water and other aid had not been enough, and they endured the oppressive August heat with virtually no electricity or running water.

Nihad al-Bayati, who had taken up arms with fellow residents to defend the town, said some army units had entered while the Shiite militiamen were stationed in the outskirts. He said residents fired into the air to celebrate the arrival of the troops.

“We thank God for this victory over terrorists,” Bayati said from the outskirts of Amirli. “The people of Amirli are very happy to see that their ordeal is over and that the terrorists are being defeated by Iraqi forces. It is a great day in our life.”

State TV stopped regular programming and started airing patriotic songs once the victory was announced. The country's security forces have been fighting the militants for weeks without achieving significant progress on the ground.

On Saturday, the United States conducted airstrikes against the Sunni militants and air-dropped humanitarian aid to residents. Aircraft from Australia, France and Britain joined the United States in the aid drop, which occurred based on a request from the Iraqi government. The Central Command said an airstrike on Sunday damaged a tank used by ISIS fighters.

The Pentagon's press secretary, Rear Adm. John Kirby, said military operations would be limited in scope and duration as needed to address the humanitarian crisis in Amirli and to protect the civilians trapped in the town.

The Islamic State extremist group has seized cities, towns and vast tracts of land in northeastern Syria and northern and western Iraq. It views Shiites as apostates and has carried out a number of massacres and beheadings — often posting grisly videos and photos of the atrocities online.

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