At least 30 Kurds killed in north Iraq battle with Islamic State

A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter stands guard at a position on the frontline in the Gwer district, 40 kilometres south of Arbil, the capital of the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq on January 9, 2015 as they continue to battle Islamic State (IS) group fighters. SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images

BAGHDAD – Islamic State group fighters attempting to retake a town in northern Iraq held by Kurdish peshmerga forces have killed at least 30 Kurds, an Iraqi military spokesman said Sunday.

The battle for the town of Gwer demonstrates the Islamic State group’s ability to still launch offensives in Iraq, despite a monthslong campaign of airstrikes by a U.S.-led coalition. And while an alliance of Iraqi troops, Kurdish fighters and Sunni and Shiitte militiamen have made some gains, their advance remains tenuous at best.

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The fighting began Saturday as the extremists approached Gwer, just outside of the northern city of Mosul, which the Islamic State group controls, said Halgurd Hekmat, a spokesman for Iraqi Kurdish forces in Irbil. Hekmat said he had no information about casualties suffered by the Islamic State group.

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Backed by U.S.-led airstrikes, Kurdish forces retook Gwer in August after the Islamic State group’s offensive saw it seize a wide swath of Iraq. Kurdish fighters from Iraq also have deployed in small numbers to help Syrian Kurds battle the group’s fighters in the Syrian border town of Kobani.

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Gwer sits near Irbil, the Kurdish regional capital. Retaking it would allow Islamic State group fighters a new base to potentially launch assaults targeting the city.

Earlier this month, peshmerga fighters also retook small villages around the militant-held town of Sinjar, opening a corridor to help hundreds of Yazidi families atop nearby Mount Sinjar.

The Islamic State group, which has declared a self-styled caliphate, holds about a third of Iraq and neighbouring Syria.

On Sunday, the U.S. military said in a statement its coalition had carried out 10 airstrikes on the Islamic State group in Syria – nine of them around Kobani – and nine strikes in Iraq.

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