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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Friday, August 17, 2018

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Key towns recaptured from ISIS by Kurdish and Iraqi forces

The fighting began on Friday after three militants were killed

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BAGHDAD, Iraq - Kurdish forces in northern Iraq have recaptured the town of Zumar from ISIS militants, while further south, Iraqi security forces are reported to have captured Jurf al-Sakhar near Baghdad, ending a battle to secure a Shia pilgrim route.

The advances by Kurdish and Iraqi forces against ISIS comes as the US military said US-led forces made 22 air strikes against ISIS in Iraq on Friday and Saturday. US air strikes were ordered to help ground forces stem the advance of ISIS, which has captured large parts of Iraq and Syria since June.

The capture of Jurf al-Sakhar was seen as key to protecting hundreds and thousands of Shia pilgrims taking part in the festival of Ashura. Iraqi forces also believe the town can be used as a springboard to attack ISIS militants in neighbouring Anbar province.

In Lebanon, several people were killed and wounded Saturday as troops clashed with Sunni militants thought to be linked to ISIS in the centre of the country's second city, Tripoli. The fighting began on Friday after three militants were killed in an outlying village.

Tripoli is sharply divided along largely sectarian lines between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Sunnis accuse the army of siding with the Shia Hezbollah movement, a key supporter of Assad.

There is, however, political consensus in Lebanon that Sunni radicalism of the ISIS variety has to be eliminated.

In Iraq, where Kurdish Peshmerga forces say they had forced the militants from the centre of Zumar and some surrounding villages, there has been growing concern that ISIS militants are closing their grip on the capital, Baghdad.

ISIS captured the country's second-largest city of Mosul in June and the town captured Saturday by Kurdish fighters is located 60km (36 miles) north of the city.

A senior official in the Peshmerga ministry in Iraq's Kurdish region, Lt Gen Jabbar Yawar, says the recapture of Zumar was a significant development that would "facilitate Peshmerga plans to liberate Sinjar".

ISIS captured the town of Sinjar in August, forcing thousands of residents, mainly from the Yazidi sect, to flee and precipitating one of the largest humanitarian crisis in Iraq since the US war on the regime of Saddam Hussein.

US Central Command said 22 air strikes on Friday and Saturday targeted ISIS units, buildings, positions and vehicles nearby, in the Mosul dam area, as well as in Falluja and Baiji.

Correspondents say the IS presence in the Jurf al-Sakhar area could threaten hundreds and thousands of Shia pilgrims taking part in the festival of Ashura.

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