Iraqi air force comes to the aid of beleaguered Kurds
Iraqi Prime Minsiter Nouri al-Maliki has dispatched his air force to the north to assist Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in their attempt to fend off a strong offensive by the Islamic State.
Three towns, an oil field, and a major dam were lost over the weekend as Kurdish forces were sent flying by the increasingly well armed and well equipped Islamic State forces. The tough little Kurdish army was thought to be the only force in Iraq capable of standing up to the terrorists in battle.
Such has proved not to be the case.
Maliki seems to have put aside his hostility with the Kurds for now to try to prevent the Islamic State, which has threatened to march on Baghdad, from making further gains.
"The general commander of the armed forces has ordered the air force command to provide backup for the Kurdish peshmerga forces against the terrorist gangs of the Islamic State," state television quoted Maliki's military spokesman Qassim Atta as saying.
A senior Kurdish official said the Kurds had been overstretched and the Islamic State had overwhelming firepower.
"The Islamic State had also been intimidating people by carrying out beheadings," he said.
After thousands of Iraqi soldiers fled their initial advance in June, the group then known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) seized tanks, armoured personnel carriers, anti-aircraft guns, mortars, artillery and vehicles.
"It is a very dangerous situation for the region. Something needs to be done soon," said the senior Kurdish official, asking not to be identified.
Despite the odds, Kurdish commanders were talking tough.
One colonel said the Kurdish withdrawal was tactical and forecast that several Kurdish brigades would take back all territory lost on Sunday and even win back Mosul, Iraq's biggest northern city which is firmly in the hands of the Islamic State.
"We will attack them until they are completely destroyed we will never show any mercy," he told Reuters. "We have given them enough chances and we will even take Mosul back. I believe within the next 48-72 hours it will be over."
The Peshmerga is a tough little army of around 200,000 who are well trained and well equipped. That they are running from the forces of the Islamic State shows how there is very little chance for the Iraqi army - even with superior numbers - to confront the terrorists in battle.
The Kurds may retake lost territory with the help of Iraqi fighter jets, but it's an open question whether they can hold it by themselves. With Islamic State forces displaying surprising military strength, the Kurds may want to rethink their decision to withdraw from the Iraq government. Perhaps only a coordinated effort of the Peshmerga and Iraqi army can win back the north and drive Islamic State back into Syria.