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Peshmergas blunt, don't break, Islamic State siege of Syria's Kobani

KOBANI: Iraqi Kurdish forces have blunted but not broken the siege of the Syrian border town of Kobani, a week after arriving to great fanfare with heavy weapons and fighters in a bid to save it from Islamic State.

Kobani has become a test of the U.S.-led coalition’s ability to halt the advance of the Sunni Muslim insurgents. The town is one of few areas in Syria where it can co-ordinate air strikes with operations by an effective ground force.

The arrival of the Iraqi Kurd peshmerga, or “those who face death,” with armored vehicles and artillery, has enabled them to shell Islamic State positions around Kobani and take back some villages.

But the front lines in the town itself are little changed, its eastern part still controlled by the insurgents, and the west still largely held by the main Syrian Kurdish armed group, the YPG, and allied fighters.

“There is no change at all in Kobani as a result of the peshmerga. Maybe one or two streets are gained then lost, back and forth,” said Rami Abdulrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war.

“ISIS (Islamic State) posts are well entrenched in Kobani city, and the Kurds say they need more heavy weaponry to make a dent … There also needs to be better co-ordination between the Kurdish units and coalition air forces,” he said, adding that Islamic State suicide attacks were also proving effective.

The peshmerga entered Kobani in more than a dozen trucks and jeeps last Friday from Turkey, cheering and making victory signs.

They were given a heroes’ welcome by Turkish Kurds and Syrian Kurdish refugees, angry at Turkey’s refusal to send in its own troops and optimistic, as they lined the streets cloaked in Kurdish flags, that the peshmerga would turn the tide.

The Kurdistan Regional Government, which runs a semi-autonomous region in northern Iraq, has made clear from the outset that its peshmerga fighters, numbering around 150, would not engage in direct combat in Kobani but rather provide artillery support to Syrian Kurds.

“Of course the presence of the peshmerga has been helpful because they’re shelling ISIS positions, destroying their fighters and weapons,” Idris Nassan, a local official in Kobani, said by telephone.

“Because of the peshmerga shelling we’ve stopped ISIS advances in the western rural areas as well as the east and southeastern front line of the city,” he told.

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