New Kurdish offensive targets Islamic State group
BAGHDAD (AP) -- Kurdish peshmerga forces launched a new offensive Wednesday targeting Islamic State group extremists in Iraq, even as a suicide bomber killed at least five people in the Kurds' regional capital.
The operation came as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said details haven't been finalized for a deal that would have his country to train rebels to battle the Islamic State in Syria, where the militants also hold territory. That will be a major topic for retired Marine Gen. John Allen, the U.S. envoy for the international coalition to counter Islamic State group, during planned talks Wednesday in Ankara.
The new peshmerga offensive targeted areas in Diyala and Kirkuk provinces seized by the extremists in their August offensive that saw them capture a third of Iraq, said Jaber Yawer, a spokesman for Kurdish forces.
In Diyala, peshmerga forces worked in coordination with Iraqi security forces to retake the towns of Saadiya and Jalula, Yawer said. In Kirkuk, Kurdish forces backed by U.S.-led airstrikes launched attacks to retake territory near the town of Kharbaroot, located 35 kilometers (22 miles) west of the city of Kirkuk.
The offensive began as a suicide car bomber struck in the heart of Irbil, killing at least five people, officials said. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the midday attack in the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, though authorities suspected the Islamic State group. Authorities also suspected the Islamic State group for three separate bombings in Baghdad that killed at least 10 people and wounded almost 30.
A U.S.-led coalition is targeting the Islamic State group in airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, supporting Western-backed Syrian rebels, Kurdish fighters and the Iraqi military. The strikes have helped halt the extremists' advance on the Syrian city of Kobani on the border of Turkey, as well as allowed Iraqi forces to make key advances in recent days.
The Kurds captured six buildings Tuesday in Kobani controlled by Islamic State militants and confiscated a large amount of weapons and ammunition, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Turkey, while previously backing Syrian rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad, has been hesitant to aid the Kobani fight over its own fears about stoking Kurdish ambitions for an independent state. On Wednesday, Erdogan said no deal had been finalized for Turkey to train rebels under the auspices of the U.S.-led operation against the Islamic State group.
"If we only talk about train and equip, we would be lying to ourselves," Erdogan said, reiterating that overthrowing Assad must be a priority as well.
The Islamic State group has declared a self-styled Islamic caliphate in areas under its control in Iraq and Syria, governing it according to its violent interpretation of Shariah law. The group has carried out mass killings targeting government security forces, ethnic minorities and others against it, including a video released Sunday with militants showing they beheaded American aid worker Peter Kassig.
Among those in that video were two French militants. On Monday, government officials identified 22-year-old Maxime Hauchard as one. Paris prosecutors said there was a "strong presumption" that Michael Dos Santos, 22, who like Hauchard left for Syria in August 2013, also was among them. Speaking Wednesday in Canberra, Australia, President Francois Hollande acknowledged that two French citizens were in the video.
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian also said Wednesday his country would send an additional six fighter jets to back the U.S.-led coalition. France already has 12 aircraft in the region taking part in strikes in Iraq.
Riechmann contributed from Istanbul. Associated Press writers Bram Janssen in Irbil, Iraq; Hamza Hendawi in Baghdad; Lori Hinnart in Paris; Ryan Lucas in Beirut and Jon Gambrell in Cairo contributed to this report.