ERBIL, Iraq (Reuters) - A mixed Kurdish and Yazidi armed force said on Monday it had dislodged Islamic State (IS) militants from five Yazidi villages west of Mosul in an offensive that began on Saturday.
It coincided with a larger, ongoing Iraqi government and Kurdish offensive to recapture Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, from IS with aerial support from the U.S.-led military coalition. Iranian-backed Shi’ite Muslim militias are also in the Mosul campaign, battling IS to the west of the city.
Islamic State overran the five villages in 2014 when it swept over Sinjar mountain and the surrounding region inhabited by Yazidis, killing, capturing and enslaving thousands from the Iraqi religious minority.
U.S.-backed Iraqi and Syrian Kurdish forces took back Sinjar in 2015 but the area south of the mountain remained in the hands of the ultra-hardline Sunni Muslim militants.
The offensive launched by the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS) aims to take back all Yazidi villages south of Sinjar, the group’s administrative chief, Hassan Saeed, told Reuters.
Saeed, a Yazidi, said the offensive had not been coordinated with Shi’ite militias known as the Popular Mobilisation.
The YBS is affiliated with Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and its military operations could upset Ankara, which has said it will not allow Sinjar to become a base for the group.
The PKK has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984 and is classified as a terrorist group by Ankara, the European Union and the United States.
Yazidis speak Kurmanji, the same language as the Kurds of Syria and Turkey. Their beliefs combine elements of several ancient Middle Eastern religions.
The Nineveh region surrounding Mosul is a mosaic of ethnic and religious communities - Arabs, Turkmen, Kurds, Yazidis, Christians, Sunnis, Shi’ites - though Sunni Arabs comprise the overwhelming majority.
Reporting by Isabel Coles in Erbil; editing by Mark Heinrich