BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Islamic State wrested a Sunni Muslim village in western Iraq on Thursday from tribal defenders who 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 Islamic State’s continued operating resilience despite air strikes by U.S.-led coalition forces aimed at defeating the ultra-radical Sunni jihadist group, which has captured large expanses of Iraq and neighboring Syria, beheaded prisoners and massacred people from other religious communities, and declared a medieval-style caliphate.
The Albu Nimr tribe had been fending off Islamic State (IS) since early October but finally lost the village of Zauiyat albu Nimr in the western province of Anbar overnight on Thursday.
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 the bodies of tribal fighters and soldiers lay strewn in the streets of Zauiyat albu Nimr on Thursday, and the very few who survived the onslaught had been told by IS insurgents to drop their weapons and leave.
“Islamic State are out to purge the village of Bu Nimr members,” said the tribal figure in Baghdad. “Sleeper cells inside the village have been assisting the Islamic State by providing the names and the locations of the houses of prominent resistance members.
“A list of 200 names that include the high officers in our village has been set and all of these names are to be killed.”
The fall of Zauiyat albu Nimr leaves remaining areas under government control in Anbar more vulnerable to seizure by IS, which overran the regional city of Hit early this month.
Islamic State holds much of western Anbar and is looking to isolate pockets of resistance, including the Ain al-Asad air base and the Haditha Dam.
U.S. President Barack Obama authorized air strikes on IS in Iraq in August, citing the duty to prevent an impending genocide of minority Yazidis at the hands of the jihadist insurgents who attacked them around Sinjar Mountain.
Yazidis follow an ancient faith derived from Zoroastrianism. IS considers the Yazidis to be devil worshippers and has killed or captured hundreds and sold many into slavery in a campaign to wipe out the religious minority.
The air strikes helped Kurdish regional forces stem IS advances in northern Iraq and relieved some of the pressure on Sinjar so that a corridor could be opened to evacuate thousands of Yazidis from the mountain.
But Kurdish peshmerga forces have not been able to secure Sinjar, and on Monday, IS militants renewed their assault on the mountain in the northwest Iraq near the Syrian frontier.
Yazidi fighters on the mountain pleaded for assistance to avert more bloodshed and said their weapons were ineffective against armored Humvee vehicles used by Islamic State.
“The situation is really bad and it’s worsening by the minute,” said Barakat, a fighter on the mountain. “We are surrounded by IS militants from all four directions. The streets at the foot of the mountain are completely under IS control.”
Barakat said 500-600 families were stranded on the mountain 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 IS 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 IS in order to protect our land and our holy shrines.”
Writing by Isabel Coles; Editing by Mark Heinrich