BAGHDAD, Aug 24, (Agencies): The spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group in Iraq says the militants are “completely surrounded” in the town of Tal Afar and “are being killed.”
US Army Col Ryan Dillon says the IS militants in the town are being deprived of their resources and at the “cusp of yet another defeat.”
Iraqi spokesman, Brig Gen Yahya Rasool, put the estimated number of IS fighters remaining in Tal Afar at 2,000. He says most are foreigners, non-Iraqi Arabs but that there are also some locals fighting with IS.
Rasool says about 10,000 civilians remain inside the city but that authorities have secured safe corridors for them.
Tal Afar is about 150 kilometers, or 93 miles, from Syria’s border and it’s among the last IS-held towns in Iraq.
The bodies of 20 Iraqi sailors have been recovered after their ship sank following a collision off the country’s southern coast, the transport ministry said on Thursday.
The Al-Misbar sank in Iraqi waters on Saturday following the collision with a foreign-flagged vessel, after which eight sailors were rescued and the bodies of four others found.
The ministry said in a statement that 16 more bodies were found when the ship was raised on Thursday.
Iraqi authorities have ordered the foreign vessel impounded following the collision, which took place in the Khor Abdullah maritime canal between Iraq and Kuwait.
Maritime traffic, which had been interrupted since Saturday due to salvage efforts, had resumed, authorities said.
The head of Turkey’s nationalist opposition said on Thursday a planned independence referendum by Kurds in northern Iraq should be viewed by Ankara as a reason for war “if necessary”.
Turkey, which is battling a three-decade Kurdish insurgency in its southeast, is concerned the referendum could further stoke separatist sentiment among the 15 million Kurds in Turkey.
On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu visited Iraq, where he conveyed to Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani Ankara’s concerns about the decision to hold the referendum, planned for Sept 25.
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahceli, who allied with the government in supporting the ruling AK Party’s campaign in April’s referendum on boosting President Tayyip Erdogan’s powers, called on Ankara to oppose the vote.
“A position must be taken to the end against Barzani’s preparation for an independence referendum which incorporates Turkmen cities,” Bahceli told a news conference in Ankara.
“This is a rehearsal for Kurdistan. If necessary Turkey should deem this referendum as a reason for war,” he added.
Bahceli does not set policy, though his ideas reflect those of a segment of Turkish society fiercely opposed to the idea of an independent Kurdistan and supportive of Iraq’s Turkmen ethnic minority, which has historical and cultural ties to Turkey.
Kurds have sought an independent state since at least the end of World War One, when colonial powers divided up the Middle East and left Kurdish-populated territory split between modern-day Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.
Like Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria all oppose the idea of Iraqi Kurdish independence, fearing it may fuel separatism among their own Kurdish populations.
The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group, deemed a terrorist organisation by Ankara, the United States and European Union, has waged a 33-year insurgency in southeast Turkey in which more than 40,000 people have been killed.
The United States and other Western nations fear September’s vote could ignite a new conflict with Baghdad and possibly neighbouring countries, diverting attention from the war against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.