Northern Iraqi Kurdish forces say they are being joined by Kurdish separatists from Turkey and Syria to confront jihadists holding Mosul. To its northwest, thousands of refugees remain trapped in hills, short of food.
Iraq's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party said its Peshmerga units together with fighters from northern Syria and PKK fighters outlawed by Turkey aimed to reclaim areas around Mosul lost to "Islamic State" jihadists last weekend.
Meanwhile, Iraq's embattled government said its air force had bombed a Sharia court operating inside a jail in Mosul and claimed to have killed 60 jihadists.
Local residents put the death toll at 30, saying half were civilians.
Kurdish fighters to 'confront' IS
The PUK's top official for the lost Mosul region Hallo Penjweny said the two allied Kurdish units would confront "Islamic State" (IS) jihadists in the Sinjar area west of Mosul, including IS militants holding the town of Rabia.
The PUK itself would "take care" of areas north and east of Mosul, he added.
Last weekend, thousands of civilians, many of them from Iraq's ancient Yazidi minority, escaped attacks in the Sinjar area by IS militants by fleeing into Sinjar's barren mountain range to the north.
Escape passage sought
Relatives said on Wednesday that the Yazidi who fled Sinjar town together with Christians and Muslims had little or no food.
Another PUK official Harem Kamal Agha told the news agency AFP that the Kurdish fighters were "working to open a safe passage for the displaced."
"It is not easy and it will require days," he said.
Battles between Mosul und Irbil
Peshmerga secretary-general Jabbar Yawar said the Kurdish campaign against IS forces was concentrated in an area east of Mosul and about 40 kilometers from Arbil, the administrative center of north Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region.
The location puts the "Islamic State" fighters closer than they have ever been to the Kurdish semi-autonomous region since they swept through northern Iraq almost unopposed in June, when US-trained Iraqi soldiers fled.
Alarm within Catholic church
The Chaldean Catholic church's patriarch in Iraq, Louis Raphael I Sako, speaking on Radio Vatican on Wednesday, called on sponsors of groups such as the IS to cease their funding and political endorsement.
Referring to those displaced in Sinjar, Sako said the various minorities were "a family."
Some 70 people had been killed in further IS attacks on the Yizidi - whose faith has links to Zoroastrianism.
"Christians are isolated, afraid and aware that in the face of such a sudden development, anything can happen," the patriarch said in his message.
On Tuesday, the Un Security Council warmed the Islamic State extremist group that it would be held accountable for persecution of minorities in Iraq.
Car bombs in Baghdad
In Baghdad, car bombs exploded in crowded markets in several Shiite districts on Wednesday, killing 47 people, police said.
In Taji, 20 km (12 miles) north of Baghdad, authorities found the bodies of six people who had been handcuffed and shot execution-style, medical sources said.
Saddam's remains removed
Tribal leaders told Reuters on Wednesday that supporters of the late Iraqi president Saddam Hussein had secretly shifted his remains from his family's grave site at Awja, 150 kilometers (95 miles) north of Baghdad eight months ago.
Shiite militia had recently broken into the vacated tomb and smashed photos inside.
Saddam of Iraq's Sunni minority was executed in 2006 after being convicted for the killings of 148 Shiite villagers that follow a failed assassination bid.
ipj/kms (Reuters, AP, dpa, AFP, kna)