U.S. airstrikes on Saturday pounded an area near Iraq's largest dam, which is currently controlled by the armed group Islamic State (IS), killing up to 15 of its fighters. The development comes amid reports that IS killed 80 men belonging to the Yazidi religious minority in northern Iraq.
There were suggestions, based on Al Jazeera sources in the Kurdish Peshmerga fighting force, that the attack was the beginning of a U.S. military operation to help Iraqi Kurds retake the dam from IS, which captured it earlier this month and gained control over the water and electricity supply in the north of the country.
Several air strikes took place on Saturday, including in the besieged Sinjar Mountains, where thousands of Yazidis had taken refuge after the northern town of Sinjar was captured by IS, which views Yazidis as heretics and devil worshippers.
Two Iraqi officials on Saturday said that survivors of an IS attack on the northern village of Kocho reported that the armed group killed over 80 Yazidi men.
IS fighters besieged the village for several days and gave its Yazidi residents a deadline to convert to Islam, Yazidi lawmaker Mahma Khalil said Saturday.
"When the residents refused to do this, the massacre took place," Khalil said.
Halgurd Hekmat, a spokesman for Kurdish security forces, said Friday night that IS fighters captured the women and children of Kocho and took them to the nearby city of Tal Afar, which is also controlled by the group.
Mohsen Tawwal, a Yazidi fighter, told AFP that he saw a large number of bodies in the village.
"We made it into a part of Kocho village, where residents were under siege, but we were too late," he said. "There were corpses everywhere. We only managed to get two people out alive. The rest had all been killed."
Amnesty International, which has been documenting mass abductions in the Sinjar area, said thousands of Yazidis had been kidnapped by IS since it launched its offensive in the region on Aug. 3. Members of the Christian, Turkmen and other minorities have also been affected by the violence.
The plight of Yazidis, tens of thousands of whom were stranded on a desert mountaintop for days, encircled by IS fighters, prompted the U.S. to launch aid lifts as well as airstrikes to help Kurdish fighters get them to safety.
Most of the Yazidis were eventually able to escape to Iraq's largely autonomous Kurdish region. Some 1.5 million people have been displaced by fighting since Islamic State’s rapid advance across northern and western Iraq began in June.
Meanwhile, in a separate development, 25 Sunni tribes in the western province of Anbar announced on Friday that they were launching a coordinated effort to oust IS fighters.
"This popular revolution was agreed on with all the tribes that want to fight [Islamic State], which spilled our blood," one of their leaders, Sheikh Abduljabbar Abu Risha, told AFP.
Anbar was the birthplace of the Sahwa, or Awakening, movement of Sunni tribes that from late 2006 sided with U.S. forces against Al-Qaeda, helping turn the tide of that insurgency.
The decision to launch airstrikes last week marked the first direct U.S. military intervention in Iraq since its last troops withdrew in 2011, and reflected growing international concern about IS, which has carved out a self-styled caliphate in large parts of Iraq and neighboring Syria.
In a separate development, Al Jazeera has learned from sources inside the Syrian opposition that U.S. officials have asked Syrian rebels not aligned with IS to call upon the international community to hit positions belonging to the armed group.
The Syrian National Coalition, the main political opposition bloc, and the leadership of the Free Syrian Army, a loose conglomeration of armed rebels, are expected to make the appeal from Turkey on Saturday, the sources said.
Al Jazeera and wire services