Iraq

People in Turkmen town Amirli decided to fight ISIL radicals

People in this Iraqi town decided to fight ISIL radicalsAs radical militants rampaged across northern Iraq in June, seizing vast swaths of territory and driving hundreds of thousands of people from their homes, the Shiite Turkmens living in the hardscrabble town of Amirli decided to stay and fight.
The wheat and barley farmers took up arms, dug trenches and posted gunmen on the rooftops, and against all odds they have kept the extremist ISIL group out of the town of 15,000 people. But residents say they are running low on food and water despite Iraqi army airlifts, and after more than six weeks under siege they don’t know how much longer they can hold out.
“We are using all of our efforts, all of our strength to protect our city and protect our homes,” Nihad al-Bayati, an oil engineer now fighting on the outskirts of the town, told The Associated Press by phone. “There is no other solution. If we have to die, so be it.”
Every three days he makes his way back into the town to see his family. He travels on back roads, hoping to avoid shelling and snipers, and keeps an eye out for flying checkpoints manned by ISIL militants who would surely kill him.
In Amirli his extended family — 17 women and children — share a single room. They have no electricity, and food and water is extremely scarce. During the day temperatures soar well above 43 C, and on some nights shells rain down on the town, forcing the family to huddle indoors in the darkness and stifling heat.
A few of the men on the front lines have access to power generators for one to two hours per day and are able to charge their phones in order to maintain contact with the outside world.
Residents say militants with the ISIL group first approached the town in late June. When the townsmen fought them off, the militants retaliated by blowing up the main power station to the north, according to Ali al-Bayati, head of the Turkmen Saving Foundation, a local NGO. The insurgents also destroyed several water wells on the outskirts of the town, he said.
The town, located some 170 kilometers north of Baghdad, has been completely surrounded by the radical militants since mid-July. The Iraqi military has been flying in food, medicine and weapons, but residents say the aid isn’t enough, and that many are falling victim to disease and heat stroke in the relentless August heat.
Earlier this week, the UN Special Representative for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, called for immediate action in Amirli “to prevent the possible massacre of its citizens.”
The Obama administration is weighing an aid operation in Amirli, three US defense officials said earlier this week on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal deliberations.
Iraqi troops are trying to relieve the town by breaking the blockade with an incursion from the west. Their Apache helicopters have targeted militant positions with airstrikes, but ground troops have faced fierce resistance from the insurgents, who have also slowed their progress with booby-trapped homes and roadside bombs.
Amirli has “become an iconic point of resistance for the Shiites in Iraq,” said Michael Knights, an Iraq expert at the Washington Institute who made numerous visits to the town before the latest fighting began. “It is the last non-Sunni community that is totally exposed to (the ISIL) right now, and it is fully encircled.”

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