U.S. Begins Arming Kurds in Iraq Following Airstrikes

State Department officials have confirmed to the New York Times and the Associated Press that the U.S. has begun selling weapons to Kurdish forces in Iraq following airstrikes on ISIS strongholds. “They are being armed from various sources,” one senior State Department official told the Times.

While U.S. officials have denied that the Pentagon is the source of the weapons, another unnamed military source told the Associated Press that the agency is "very close" to finalizing a plan.

Kurdish forces took back two towns held by ISIS forces over the weekend, aided by U.S. airstrikes. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the Associated Press that the airstrikes "have been very effective from all the reports that we've received on the ground."

From the New York Times:

The American air support encouraged the Kurdish militiamen to reverse the momentum of the recent fighting and retake Gwer and the other town, Mahmour, both within a half-hour's drive of Erbil, according to Gen. Helgurd Hikmet, head of the pesh merga's media office. General Hikmet said some pesh merga fighters had pushed on beyond the two towns, which lie on the frontier between the Arab and Kurdish areas of Iraq.

Thousands of Yazidis were also able to escape Mount Sinjar after airstrikes on the region, though thousands still remained trapped. From the Times:

Four American airstrikes on the extremists surrounding the mountain on Saturday, along with airdrops of food, water and supplies, helped Yazidi and Kurdish fighters beat back militants and open a path for thousands of Yazidis to escape the siege. The escapees made their way on Sunday through Syrian territory to Fishkhabour, an Iraqi border town under Kurdish control.

As the battles continue to rage between Kurds and the Sunni militants, Iraq's prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, appeared on state television today demanding a third term. Fouad Massoum was elected as the country's new president last month.

"We believe that the government formation process is critical in terms of sustaining the stability and calm in Iraq," Secretary of State John Kerry said from Sydney, Monday. "And our hope is that Mr. Maliki will not stir those waters."

[Image via AP]