KIRKUK, Iraq: Iraq has launched a major operation to liberate a jihadist-besieged town, as US Secretary of State John Kerry called on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) for a global coalition to combat the “genocidal” militants.
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah warned that the West would be the next Islamic State (IS) target unless swift action is taken, after Britain raised its terror alert level over the threat of jihadist attacks.
The drive to break the more than two-month siege of Amerli, north of Baghdad, came as a non-government organization said that the IS jihadist group, which has surrounded the Shiite Turkmen-majority town, sold at least 27 women in Syria after kidnapping them in Iraq.
Iraqi security forces, thousands of Shiite militiamen and Kurdish peshmerga fighters are all taking part in the operation to lift the jihadist blockade of Amerli, sources said.
The town has been besieged since IS-led militants launched a major offensive in Iraq in June.
Amerli residents face major shortages of food and water, and are in danger both because of their Shiite faith, which jihadists consider heresy, and their resistance to the militants, which has drawn harsh retribution elsewhere.
Army Staff Lieutenant General Abdulamir al-Zaidi said the anti-jihadist operation had been launched with Iraqi air support, and vowed that “we will be victorious over them.”
The operation has retaken 10 villages en route to Amerli, and reinforcements have been airlifted to the town, officials said.
Meanwhile, the US military launched fresh attacks on IS forces, using fighter aircraft and drones to carry out strikes near Iraq’s strategic Mosul dam, the Pentagon said.
The United States began carrying out air strikes against IS in Iraq earlier this month, but has yet to decide if it will expand that military action into the Amerli area, or to Syria.
Writing in the New York Times, Kerry urged “a united response led by the United States and the broadest possible coalition of nations” to combat IS.
“What’s needed to confront its nihilistic vision and genocidal agenda is a global coalition using political, humanitarian, economic, law enforcement and intelligence tools to support military force,” he said.
Kerry said he and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel would meet European counterparts on the sidelines of an upcoming North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit to enlist assistance, and then travel to the Middle East to build support “among the countries that are most directly threatened.”
US President Barack Obama has acknowledged that Washington has no strategy yet to tackle IS, which has declared an Islamic “caliphate” in large swathes of territory under its control in Iraq and Syria.
IS has prompted widespread concern because of its sweeping advances in both countries and the killing of hundreds of people, including in gruesome beheadings and mass executions.
The group’s progress has also sparked regional fears, with Saudi King Abdullah warning Saturday that “they will reach Europe in a month and America in another month” if left unchecked.
Britain on Friday raised its terror alert level to “severe,” meaning an attack is “highly likely,” although Washington said it had no plans to follow suit.