Kurdish forces launch push against IS in northern Iraq
AFP, , Wednesday 21 Jan 2015

Kurdish security forces launched an offensive on the Islamic State (IS) group in northern Iraq Wednesday, backed by US-led air strikes, and retook villages the jihadists used to launch attacks, officials said.

The Kurdistan Regional Security Council said peshmerga forces, who began a "large-scale offensive" around 7:00 am (0400 GMT), retook four areas and were working to clear more.

The anti-IS coalition said it carried out six air strikes in northern Iraq from Tuesday to Wednesday -- three near the town of Tal Afar and three near the city of Mosul. It did not specify the exact locations targeted.

The strikes in Nineveh province, where Kurdish troops launched the offensive, hit vehicles, IS units, buildings, heavy weapons and a bridge, a statement said.

IS spearheaded a sweeping offensive that has overrun much of Iraq's Sunni Arab heartland since June, presenting both an opportunity for territorial expansion and a threat to the country's three-province autonomous Kurdish region.

Several Iraqi divisions collapsed in the early days of the offensive, clearing the way for the Kurds to take control of a swathe of disputed northern territory that they have long wanted to incorporate into their region over Baghdad's objections.

But after driving south towards Baghdad, IS then turned its attention to the Kurds, pushing them back toward their regional capital Arbil in a move that helped spark US strikes against the jihadists.

Backed by the strikes as well as international advisors and trainers, Kurdish forces have clawed back significant ground from IS.

The conflict seems set to redraw the internal boundaries of Iraq in favour of broader Kurdish control in the north.