Iraq Kurdish forces work to clear Sinjar of ISIS bombs
NEAR SINJAR TOWN (Iraq) - Iraqi Kurdish forces worked on Saturday to clear bombs from Sinjar a day after they captured the town from the jihadist Islamic State group.
The bombs must be removed before the northern town's mainly Yazidi residents -- members of a minority group who were targeted in a brutal campaign of massacres, enslavement and rape by ISIS -- can return and begin rebuilding their lives.
"Until now, we defused 45 bombs and a car bomb," said Sulaiman Saeed, a member of the autonomous Kurdish region's peshmerga forces who works in explosives disposal.
"Bombs are widespread in houses," Saeed said, adding that some 20 tonnes of explosives were found in a bomb-making factory, while they also discovered 20 barrels of explosives.
"Now that they've seized Sinjar, or freed Sinjar, the next phase is to go back and clear it," Colonel Steve Warren, spokesman for the international operation against ISIS, told a news conference on Friday.
"That will take a while, that will probably take a week, 10 days, maybe even two weeks, depending on the complexity of the minefields and obstacles that (ISIS) left behind," Warren said.
The Kurdish region's Security Council also said that teams would work "to clear the heavily-mined area while peshmerga forces create defensive positions".
But bombs are not the only obstacles to a return by residents, as many houses and shops were smashed during the fighting.
The operation to drive the jihadists out of Sinjar, which began Thursday morning, was led by peshmerga forces and also involved Yazidi fighters, with support from US-led air strikes.
They were able to cut Highway 47, one of ISIS's main supply routes linking territory it holds in Iraq and Syria, in the Sinjar area on Thursday, and moved into the town the following day.
Kurdish regional president Massud Barzani on Friday announced the "liberation of Sinjar" at a news conference near the town.
IS overran Sinjar in August last year, forcing thousands of Yazidis to flee to a mountain overlooking the town, where they were trapped by the jihadists.
The United Nations has described the attack on the Yazidis as a possible genocide.
Aiding the Yazidis, whose unique faith ISIS considers heretical, was one of Washington's main justifications for starting its air campaign against the jihadists last year.