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Iraqi Forces Ready for US-Backed Counter-Offensive

Arbil

Iraq's federal and Kurdish forces today prepared their bid to reclaim lost ground as US jets pounded jihadist positions to pave the way and also dropped aid to stranded civilians.

President Barack Obama's decision to send warplanes back to Iraq, three years after pulling the last US troops out of the country, marked a potential turning point in the two-month-old conflict.

After a first day of US air raids on Islamic State (IS) fighters who had moved within striking distance of Kurdistan, a top official in the autonomous region said the time had come for a fightback.

"Following the US strikes, the peshmerga will first regroup, second redeploy in areas they retreated from and third help the displaced return to their homes," Fuad Hussein told reporters yesterday in the Kurdish capital Arbil.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd who has boycotted cabinet meetings for weeks as relations soured with Baghdad, said that failing to arm the Kurdish peshmerga forces had been a costly mistake.

He said the American air strikes had stopped the rot on the ground and allowed the federal and Kurdish authorities to unite behind the common cause of defeating the IS jihadists.

"The Iraqi army and the peshmerga are fighting side-by-side in the same trenches now," he said.

Iraq's military chief of staff, Babaker Zebari, told AFP yesterday that US advisers, peshmerga and federal top brass were "selecting targets" together.

The first US bombings struck IS positions and at least one convoy of vehicles carrying militants west of Arbil.

A White House spokesman said yesterday the strikes would be "very limited in scope", but Babaker Zebari said he thought US air support would extend to other areas.

He said the intervention would allow joint action to reclaim large tracts of land lost to the Sunni extremists since they launched their devastating offensive on June 9, exactly two months ago.

The Pentagon also said late yesterday that cargo planes escorted by combat jets made a second air drop of food and water to "thousands of Iraqi citizens" threatened by the jihadists on Mount Sinjar.

Obama justified the strikes on Thursday by the threat to US personnel in Kurdistan and the need to avert a genocide against Sinjar's Yazidi community.

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PLACES: IraqUSA
SECTION: International
OUTLOOK 09 August, 2014
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