August 7, 2014 - 14:52 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Islamic State militants extended their gains in northern Iraq on Thursday, Aug 7, seizing more towns and strengthening a foothold near the Kurdish region in an offensive that has alarmed the Baghdad government and regional powers, Reuters reported.
The advance forced thousands of residents of Iraq's biggest Christian town to flee, fearing they would be subjected to the demands the Sunni militants made in other captured areas -- leave, convert to Islam or face death.
The Islamic State, which is considered more extreme than al Qaeda, sees Iraq's majority Shi'ites and minorities such as Christians and Yazidis as infidels.
The militant group said in a statement on its Twitter account that its fighters had seized 15 towns, the strategic Mosul dam on the Tigris River and a military base in an offensive that began at the weekend and would continue. Kurdish officials say their forces still control the dam.
The Sunni militants inflicted a humiliating defeat on Kurdish forces in the weekend sweep, prompting tens of thousands from the ancient Yazidi community to flee the town of Sinjar for surrounding mountains.
Some of the many thousands trapped by Islamic State fighters on Sinjar mountain have been rescued in the past 24 hours, a spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said, adding that 200,000 had fled the fighting.
The Islamic State, which has declared a caliphate in areas of Iraq and Syria it controls, clashed with Kurdish forces on Wednesday in the town of Makhmur near Arbil, the capital of the Kurdish autonomous zone.
Witnesses said the militants had seized Makhmur, but Kurdish officials told local media their forces remained in control there and television channels broadcast footage of peshmerga fighters driving around the town.
A spokesman for the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) said its fighters had arrived in Makhmur, site of a refugee camp that is home to thousands of PKK sympathizers expelled from Turkey during the 1990s.
"PKK fighters have arrived in Makmour to join the resistance," said Zagros Hiwa, a spokesman for the group. "They have come from their bases in the mountains."
The mainly Christian town of Tilkaif, as well as Al Kwair, were overrun by militants, witnesses said, according to Reuters.