BAGHDAD: ISIS wrested a Sunni village in western Iraq Thursday from tribal defenders who had put up weeks of fierce resistance, and the insurgents tightened a siege of the Yazidi minority on a mountain in the north.
The attacks showed ISIS’ continued operating resilience, despite airstrikes by U.S.-led coalition forces aimed at defeating the jihadist group.
The Albu Nimr tribe had been fending off ISIS since early October, but finally lost the village of Zawyet Albu Nimr in the western province of Anbar overnight.
A small Iraqi army unit was stationed in the village, but evacuated by helicopter in the early hours of Thursday, along with leaders from the Albu Nimr, a tribal figure from the village told Reuters in Baghdad.
Residents said that the bodies of tribal fighters and soldiers lay strewn in the streets of Zawyet Albu Nimr, and the very few who survived the onslaught had been told by ISIS insurgents to drop their weapons and leave.
“ISIS is out to purge the village of Albu Nimr members,” said the tribal figure in Baghdad. “Sleeper cells inside the village have been assisting ISIS by providing the names and the locations of the houses of prominent resistance members.
“A list of 200 names that includes the high officers in our village has been set and all of these names are to be killed.”
The fall of Zawyet Albu Nimr leaves remaining areas under government control in Anbar more vulnerable to seizure by ISIS, which overran the regional city of Heet early this month.
ISIS holds much of western Anbar and is looking to isolate pockets of resistance, including the Ain al-Asad air base and the Haditha Dam.
Meanwhile, the ISIS group besieging Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq has killed a commander of forces from the Yazidi religious minority defending the area, a fighter said.
The commander, Al-sheikh Khayri, had returned from Germany, which has a large Yazidi community, to fight, and was killed Wednesday night, Khalaf Mamu told AFP by telephone.
“The humanitarian situation became very difficult because there is very little food,” while fuel was also lacking, he said.
He estimated the number of fighters defending Mount Sinjar at 1,200.
ISIS began a renewed push for the mountain Monday after besieging it earlier in the year.
Yazidi fighters on the mountain pleaded for assistance to avert more bloodshed and said their weapons were ineffective against armored Humvee vehicles used by ISIS.
“The situation is really bad and it’s worsening by the minute,” said Barakat, a fighter in Sinjar. “We are surrounded by ISIS militants from all four directions. The streets at the foot of the mountain are completely under ISIS control.”
Barakat said 500-600 families were stranded on Mount Sinjar and although helicopters occasionally dropped supplies and picked up some civilians, they could only lift a small number of people to safety each time.
Awar, another Yazidi fighter, said there were many ISIS militants on the eastern side of the mountain: “There’s a strong possibility that a large-scale attack is coming tonight or tomorrow morning.”
Yazidi combatants said they were short on supplies including food and clothing. “The fighters are holding the ground and are putting a stop to any attempt at climbing the mountain,” said a third fighter who asked to remain unnamed. “We will stay here and fight ISIS in order to protect our land and our holy shrines.”
Some 300 of the jihadists with armored vehicles attacked and seized nearby villages and then turned their sights on the mountain itself, Commander Dawud Jundi said.
The first siege of Mount Sinjar, during which thousands of mainly-Yazidi civilians were trapped, was a key moment in the fight against ISIS.
The plight of those trapped on the mountain helped prompt the United States to begin airstrikes against the jihadists that have since been expanded into Syria and now involve a coalition of countries.
Most of the people trapped in the first siege were eventually able to escape via Syria with the help of Kurdish fighters from Iraq’s neighbor to the west, but that route has now been closed.