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Iranians play role in breaking IS siege of Iraqi town

AMERLI: Kurdish peshmerga fighters and Shia militiamen paraded through Amerli on Monday, a day after breaking the two-month siege of the northern town by militants.
The scenes in Amerli and the surrounding area of Suleiman Beg offered a window into the teamwork among Kurdish fighters, the Iraqi army and Shia militias and into Iran’s role in directly assisting their campaign against Islamic State (IS) forces.
An Iranian adviser to Iraqi police was spotted on the road near Amerli and Kurdish officers spoke of Iranians advising Iraqi fighters on targeting the Islamists.
The swift end to the Islamic State’s encirclement of the Shia Turkmen town of 15,000 came on Sunday amid a push by Kurdish peshmerga, Shia militias and Iraqi troops, after U.S. air strikes late Saturday hit IS positions.
Shia militias, who battled US. troops during their occupation of Iraq, played a song in Amerli on Monday that taunted the extremist Islamic State with the line: “The Americans couldn’t beat us and you think you can?”
The town was filled with Kurdish peshmerga and fighters from the largest Shia militias - the Badr Organization, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Kata’ib Hezbollah and cleric Muqtada Sadr’s followers.
Militia fighters spoke of a new alliance with the Kurds, who had been shaken by the Islamic State’s offensive on Kurdish-controlled territories last month. They were then helped by US. air strikes that forced IS to retreat.
“I’m totally confident that the failure of the peshmerga to stop the Islamic State’s advance towards areas around Arbil forced the Kurds to review their wrong policy of refusing to cooperate with us,” said a fighter from Asaib Ahl al-Haq.
“Without our help, it will be difficult for them to stop Islamic State fighters alone.”
Militia and Kurdish fighters on Monday entered the nearby community of Suleiman Beg, an Islamic State stronghold since earlier this year.
Peshmerga planted their flag on top of a building and Asaib Ahl Haq fighters chanted “Ya Hussein”, the name of a revered Shia religious figure. The militia men skirted around the buildings and lobbed dynamite into houses to clear them of any explosives left by the Islamic State.
“The peshmerga just came now and raised their flag. We have been here (in the area) for eight days,” said one Asaib Ahl al-Haq fighter.
The influence of Iran was evident in Suleiman Beg. With Asaib Ahl al-Haq, which is funded by Iran and recognizes Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as its spiritual guide, were two men who spoke Farsi and dressed in beige uniforms different from their colleagues’ green camouflage.
Asked if he was Iranian, one of the Farsi speakers said: “We are liberating Suleiman Beg.”
Asked if the Iraqis’ could have made their recent gains without Iranian support, he answered: “No.”
By a convoy of armoured police vehicles, a man speaking Farsi described himself as coming from Iran and said he was there to help with training police.
A peshmerga commander in Suleiman Beg acknowledged the part played by Iranians in the assault on Islamic State positions. “The Iranians had a role in this. They supplied weapons and helped with the military planning,” he said on condition of anonymity.
“They trained the Shia forces. There are Iranians here in another base: three or four of them. They are guiding the peshmerga in firing heavy artillery. They don’t speak Kurdish - they have a translator.”
On Saturday, a senior member of the Kurdish party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, told Reuters the Iraqi military, Kurds and Iranian advisers had joint operation centres.
Speaking in Khanaqin in Diyala province, PUK member Mala Bakhtiar said the Iranians did not participate in actual fighting but provided expertise.

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