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Gains in Kurdish counterattack but Iraq militants put up stiff resistance

Gains in Kurdish counterattack but Iraq militants put up stiff resistance
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As a Kurdish counterattack continues, Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq say they have recaptured several towns and villages southwest of Erbil, evicting Islamic State fighters.

But they are adapting their strategy amid concerns that the jihadists are now hiding in populated areas.

“US air strikes have helped us a lot, helped our morale,” explained Kurdish commander Sirwan Saber Barzani.

But, he added, the American pilots “do not have instructions to hit residential or urban areas including bridges, roads and villages, so the terrorists changed their tactics. We, too, have changed our tactics, and God willing, we will hit them hard”.

Fierce resistance from Islamic State has forced Iraqi soldiers to suspend an offensive to retake Tikrit, the hometown of executed former dictator Saddam Hussein.

Officers in the Iraqi forces’ operations room told Reuters that, south of Tikrit, the government side came under heavy machine gun and mortar fire from the militants, a group of Arab and foreign fighters hardened by battle both in Iraq and over the border in Syria’s civil war.

To the west, landmines and snipers frustrated efforts to get closer to the city centre in the latest in a series of attempts to drive out the Islamists. Residents of central Tikrit said by telephone that Islamic State fighters were firmly in control of their positions and patrolling the main streets.

The city of Mosul also remains in the militants’ hands.

But helped by US air strikes, Kurdish and Iraqi government forces have retaken full control of Mosul dam, the country’s biggest.

It is a crucial gain as the dam is a fragile structure which controls water and power supplies to millions of people down the Tigris river valley.

The Islamists left explosives behind however and fighting continues nearby.