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New airstrikes target Islamic State fighters holding dam in northern Iraq

August 16, 2014 at 7:05 PM EDT
Airstrikes hit positions near a key dam in northern Iraq, which had been recently captured by Islamic extremists, a day after the extremists -- members of the Islamic State -- are said to have massacred dozens of Yazidis. Liz Sly of The Washington Post joins Hari Sreenivasan via Skype from Iraq.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Good evening thanks for joining us. American jets today hit positions near a key dam in Northern Iraq that had been captured recently by Islamic extremists. This a day after the extremists, members of the Islamic State, are said to have massacred dozens of Yazidis. The extremists reportedly have demanded members of that religious minority convert to Islam. For more about all this we are joined now via Skype from Duhok in Northern Iraq by Liz Sly of The Washington Post. So we’ve heard about several more air strikes in the region this morning. What can you tell us?

LIZ SLY: Well all we know is that there have been some big explosions around that dam at ISIS positions that we are hearing reports from residents about. It’s not clear at this moment I don’t think whether the U.S. has been involved. But we know that they have been involved in a lot of the other airstrikes that have gone on around that area and I think it is expected that these were U.S. strikes.

HARI SREENIVASAN: What do we know about the area where the most recent massacre occurred?

LIZ SLY: This is small village that southeast of the town of Sinjar which is where the assault on the Yazidis a couple of weeks ago triggered this whole Yazidi crisis. It’s a very small village, it’s in a remote area reports there have been rather sketchy but what we know is at about 1 o’clock yesterday fighters with  Islamic State did go into that village and they apparently pulled we have a number of 84 men, they lined them up and executed them and then took away around 300.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Is there a connection between the timing of when the U.S. said the humanitarian operations in the mountains are done and when these people went in for the massacre.

LIZ SLY:  Yes that’s what a lot of Yazidis and some Kurds are telling us. They believe there is a direct connection between President Obama calling off the humanitarian airlift  of Yazidis the mountain nearby and the Islamic State fighters going in and killing these people. They have been surrounding these people for a week demanding that they convert or risk death. So it could be that they were planning to go in anyway but a lot of people feel that they were off the hook, a green light from President Obama to continue killing in the area.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  And have they made more advances in the region since the humanitarian crisis has really occupied most of our headlines here in the west?

LIZ SLY: Well they’ve been continuing to advance throughout this time they’ve never really stopped. The airstrikes did help them on the outskirts of Iribil but they have continued to make gains in the far southeastern corner a place called Jalula and they’ve been making a lot of gains recently in the northern Aleppo countryside in Syria the furthest other edge of the area they control. They’ve been taking a lot of small towns and villages around Aleppo, just in the past few days and people are very afraid that the Syrian rebels there are going to lose control of the border with Turkey and perhaps the town of Aleppo itself.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And what about the talk that perhaps U.S. military aid could come to Kurdistan or other European countries could assist in this fight?

LIZ SLY: Well it’s my understanding that U.S. military aid has already arrived in Kurdistan it was announced earlier this week that U.S. was prepared to send the aid directly to Kurdistan. tHEY ARE coordinating this with Baghdad they are not bypassing the federal government in Baghdad they’re not like cutting a separate deal with Kurdistan if you like. But they are sending arms and it’s my understanding that some have already arrived.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Liz Sly of the Washington Post joining us via Skype from Iraq. Thanks so much.