The Iraqi military and the Kurdish Peshmerga said their forces have driven the Islamic State from Jurf al Sahkar south of Baghdad and the town of Zumar northwest of Mosul over the weekend. The two towns have changed hands several times over the past few months.
The Iraqi military, backed by Iranian-supported Shiite militias, claimed to have cleared the Islamic State from Jurf al Sahkar, a contested town in northern Babil province, on Oct. 25 after heavy fighting. Iraqi officials said that 300 Islamic State fighters and 67 soldiers and Shiite militiamen were killed, according to Reuters. Islamic State fighters are said to have withdrawn to nearby towns.
Farther north, near Mosul and Sinjar, Kurdish forces, backed by US airstrikes, wrested control of Zumar and two nearby towns from the Islamic State yesterday. US Central command launched 10 airstrikes “west of the Mosul Dam” and hit “four small ISIL [Islamic State] units, one large ISIL unit, destroyed an ISIL building, six ISIL fighting positions and four ISIL staging locations.”
Kurdish and Iraqi casualties during the fighting in Zumar were not disclosed. But Islamic State fighters killed seven Peshmerga fighters in an IED attack in a nearby village, according to Reuters. Additionally, 17 Islamic State fighters were captured in another nearby town.
Two towns have changed hands several times
Control of the towns of Jurf al Sakhar and Zumar has alternated between the Islamic State and the Iraqi government or Kurdish forces over the past several months.
Jurf al Sakhar is a key piece of terrain for both the Islamic State and the Iraqi government. The Islamic State seeks to control it to facilitate the flow of fighters and weapons from Anbar to other cities and towns in northern Babil and southern Baghdad province. Additionally, control of Jurf al Sakhar allows the jihadist group to launch attacks into the Shiite holy city of Karbala and other cities and towns farther south.
In the past eight months, the Iraqi military has claimed to have liberated Jurf al Sakhar numerous times. The Iraqi military has also claimed to have killed hundreds of fighters in the town. [See LWJ report, US air campaign against Islamic State expands to southwestern Baghdad.]
Zumar has also changed hands several times since the beginning of August. The Islamic State took control of the town on Aug. 2 during an offensive in the north that put the group in control of Sinjar, the Mosul Dam, and a host of other towns north, west, and east of Mosul. On Aug. 10, the Peshmerga, backed by US airstrikes, retook Zumar. But Kurdish forces abandoned the town in September after another Islamic State offensive.