BAGHDAD—Kurdish forces said they retook two important parts of northern Iraq
on Sunday, reversing gains by Islamist militants while U.S. warplanes conducted a third day of airstrikes on the insurgents. The advance of the radical Sunni group Islamic State into the semiautonomous region last week sparked a humanitarian disaster and prompted the first U.S. military intervention in Iraq in 3 years.
Kurdish fighters overtook Islamic State positions in Makhmur District, a region north of the city of Kirkuk, and the nearby town of Gwair
. The fighters, who until recently had called themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, also known as ISIS or ISIL, had taken over the two towns last week as part of a broader push toward Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region.
The U.S. State Department on Sunday relocated "a limited number" of staff from the American embassy in Baghdad and the U.S. consulate in Erbil
. They will be transferred to the U.S. consulate in Basra, Iraq and to Amman, Jordan.
The Kurdish advance has restored hope that at least One fighting force in the region is still capable of confronting an Islamist juggernaut that cowed Iraq's U.S.-trained military
and quickly snatched more than a quarter of the country during its blitz toward Baghdad in June. Since then, Iraqi forces have been unable to reclaim even modest tracts of land. Sunday's victories demonstrate how important America's military re-engagement in Iraq will be toward restoring the country's fragile cohesiveness.
"We cleared up Makhmour and Gwair of Islamic State militants and 25 villages around it," said a security official for the Peshmerga, the Kurdish soldiers who make up a somewhat independent contingent within Iraq's army. "We have flown the Kurdistan flag
again in the center of Makhmour."
The Peshmerga fought for several days to retake the two towns, said Kurdish security officers. Though Kurdish soldiers are known to be Better trained and equipped than other Iraqi troops,[b[ they were at first overwhelmed by the Islamic States' superior weapons, many of which had been pilfered from retreating Iraqi troops in June.[/b] [.......]