Kurdish fighters backed by US warplanes pushed back jihadists around Iraq's largest dam yesterday, as Sunni Arab tribesmen and security forces joined the fight against the militants making it a turning point in the fightback against the jihadists and their allies.
Two months of violence have brought Iraq to the brink of breakup, and world powers relieved by the exit of divisive premier Nuri al-Maliki were sending aid to the hundreds of thousands who have fled their homes as well as arms to the Kurds.
Kurdish fighters were advancing on Mosul dam, which the Islamic State (IS) fighters seized a week ago, but their progress was being hampered by roadside bombs, Kurdish officials said.
The dam on the Tigris river north of Iraq's second city provides electricity and irrigation water for farming to much of the region.
Kurd officials said they have recaptured half of the Mosul dam area and they are pushing for recapturing the total facility.
It recapture would be the first major prize won back from the jihadists since they launched their shock offensive in early June, routing the security forces across much of northern and western Iraq.
An AFP journalist saw towers of smoke rising from the dam area yesterday.
The US military said it carried out nine air strikes on Saturday in support of Kurdish forces. US Central Command said warplanes and drones had destroyed or damaged four armoured personnel carriers, seven armed vehicles, two Humvees and an armoured vehicle.
Buoyed by the air strikes US President Barack Obama ordered last week, Kurdish forces have tried to claw back the ground they have lost since the start of this month, when the jihadists went back on the offensive north, east and west of Mosul.
In Anbar province, west of Baghdad, security forces backed by Sunni Arab tribal militia, who threw their weight behind a counter-offensive against the jihadists on Friday, made gains west of the provincial capital Ramadi, police said.
Fighting was also taking place near the strategic Euphrates Valley town of Haditha, which hosts another important dam, Police Staff Major General Ahmed Sadag said.
The rallying of more than two dozen Sunni tribes to the government side marked a potential turning point in the fightback against the jihadists and their allies.
When the jihadists began their Iraq offensive on June 9, Kurdish forces initially fared better than federal government troops, many of whom simply fled.
Many in and outside Iraq say the Shia-led government was partly to blame by pushing sectarian policies that have marginalised and radicalised the Sunni Arab minority.
Maliki was seen as an obstacle to any progress, and his announcement on Thursday that he was abandoning his efforts to cling to power was welcomed with a sigh of relief at home and abroad.
International support has poured in for prime minister designate Haidar al-Abadi as he attempts to forge a new, more inclusive government capable of uniting broad support against the jihadists.