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Fear of retribution as ISIS siege ends

BAGHDAD — A day after breaking through a siege by Islamic State militants on the Shiite town of Amirli, pro-government militias and Iraqi forces on Monday pushed their way into nearby villages they accuse of helping to enforce the months-long blockade.

The arrival of the Shiite-dominated armed groups in neighboring Sunni towns raised fears that Sunnis could be targeted in revenge killings. Sectarian bloodshed has been on the rise since Islamic State of Iraq and Syria fighters rampaged across northern Iraq in June, targeting Shiites and minority groups.

ISIS had surrounded Amirli, a poor Shiite farming hamlet, and had cut off access to food, water, and electricity for two months.

The breakthrough on Sunday came as fighters from Iraq's various military and paramilitary forces fought their way into the town, with the help of U.S. airstrikes on ISIS targets in the area.

On Monday, the fighting continued as Iraqi, Shiite and Kurdish peshmerga forces swept into the nearby Sunni town of Suleiman Beg and other Sunni villages.

Much of Suleiman Beg's population had fled by the time Iraqi forces arrived, area residents and militia fighters said.

Those who remained were pleased to be rid of the ISIS and its "tactics," said Shalal Abdul, a Sunni and the head of the local council in the nearby town of Tuz Khurmatu.

But tensions also ran high as area Sunnis who had initially welcomed ISIS's presence because of its opposition to Iraq's Shiite-dominated government, worried that they would now be accused of collaborating with the militants, Abdul said.

"The residents are very concerned," he said. "They are calling us to ask us to please explain that they were not collaborators and were just forced to stay."

This photo provided by the Iraqi government shows outgoing prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, center, surrounded by residents and security forces after his arrival in Amirli, some 105 miles (170 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, Sept. 1, 2014. Al-Maliki praised residents for fending off attacks by Sunni militants who had besieged them for more than two months until security forces backed by Iran-allied Shiite militias and U.S. airstrikes broke the siege a day earlier. [Associated Press]

This photo provided by the Iraqi government shows outgoing prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, center, surrounded by residents and security forces after his arrival in Amirli, some 105 miles (170 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, Sept. 1, 2014. Al-Maliki praised residents for fending off attacks by Sunni militants who had besieged them for more than two months until security forces backed by Iran-allied Shiite militias and U.S. airstrikes broke the siege a day earlier. [Associated Press]

Fear of retribution as ISIS siege ends 09/01/14 [Last modified: Monday, September 1, 2014 11:40pm]
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