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Retreating IS fighters call Kurds ‘dogs of Israel’

Peshmerga forces break siege of Mt. Sinjar, push back jihadists in major offensive

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

This undated file image posted on a militant website on January 4, 2014, which is consistent with other AP reporting, shows Shakir Waheib, a senior member of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), now called the Islamic State group, left, next to a burning police vehicle in Iraq's Anbar Province. (Photo credit: AP via militant website, File)
This undated file image posted on a militant website on January 4, 2014, which is consistent with other AP reporting, shows Shakir Waheib, a senior member of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), now called the Islamic State group, left, next to a burning police vehicle in Iraq's Anbar Province. (Photo credit: AP via militant website, File)

Islamic State fighters left behind graffiti calling Kurds “Israeli dogs” as peshmerga forces expanded a major offensive against jihadi-held areas in northwestern Iraq on Saturday after breaking a months-old siege.

A photo showing writing on a Kurdish flag that read “The flag of Israeli dogs,” was taken Saturday and posted on the Kurdish Rudaw news site, researcher Ceng Sagnic from Tel Aviv’s Moshe Dayan Center told The Times of Israel.

Ties between Israel and the Kurds run deep. A Mossad officer named Sagi Chori was sent to help his close friend, the late iconic Kurdish leader Mulla Mustafa Barzani, manage the Kurds’ battles against the Iraqi army in the 1960s. There have also been persistent reports of Israel training Kurdish commandos. Nationalist Kurds tend to see Israel as a role model for an independent Kurdistan: a small nation surrounded by enemies and bolstered by a strategic partnership with the United States.

IS fighters retreated as the peshmerga closed in on the town of Sinjar, south of the mountain that bears the same name, and Tal Afar, to its east. If successful, the move would significantly alter the map of the Islamic State group’s self-declared cross-border caliphate and isolate its Mosul hub.

The autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region’s troops reached the flanks of Mount Sinjar with food and other aid three days after launching a vast operation in the region, backed by US-led coalition airstrikes.

Tens of thousands of members of the Yazidi religious minority were trapped on the mountain for days in the searing August heat in a first siege that sparked fears of genocide and was one of the reasons behind US President Barack Obama’s decision to launch an air war against IS.

Many Yazidis were eventually evacuated when a coalition of Kurdish forces opened a corridor to Syria, and on Saturday the same factions were trying to reopen that route.

As the convoy worked its way up the mountain, a 60-kilometer-long (40-mile) ridge where civilians and fighters had been trapped since September, people swarmed vehicles to get food.

“I haven’t seen an orange since September,” said a 10-year-old girl as the peshmerga distributed fruit and other food.

The civilians, some of whom had sought refuge on Sinjar after being displaced from nearby villages by IS fighters, looked exhausted, their skin sunburnt and clothes caked in dirt.

“We had barely received any aid in 75 days. It stopped coming when the Islamic State cut the road,” said Hassan Khalaf, a gaunt 45-year-old.

“What we need now is aid. We want them to save us,” he told an AFP journalist travelling with the peshmerga convoy.

AFP contributed to this report.

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