Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has ordered his air force to assist Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in a counter-offensive against the Islamic State in the north.

The commander in chief of the armed forces has issued orders to the leadership of the air force and the army's aviation units to provide air support to Peshmerga forces," Iraqi army spokesman Qassem Atta said in a statement, the BBC reported. 

ISIS seizes new towns and strategic assets

This escalation comes after ISIS made significant territorial gains over the weekend, breaking through a stalemate to overtake the towns of Zumar, Sinjar, and Wana in the triangular border corner between Iraq, Syria, and Turkey.

In response to the ISIS attacks, Syrian Kurds, who had previously been shunned by their Iraqi counterparts sent troops across the border to aid in the fighting on Sunday. 

ISIS also seized control of the strategically important Mosul Dam, which provides electricity to Iraq's second-largest city and the surrounding areas. On Monday, Daniel Pipes, the President of the Mideast Forum told CNN that control of the dam gives the Islamic State the ability to flood major portions of the country. 

If you control the Mosul Dam, you can threaten just about everybody."

Reuters

A Kurdish-Shiite joint effort

The announcement by al-Maliki comes after requests from Kurdish officials for arms from Washington. American officials, eager to keep Iraq intact, has opted against sending weapons to the semi-autonomous Kurds thus far. 

The joint effort could signal a strengthening of ties between the Kurds and the Shiite-led government after years of tension. Last month, the Kurdish government broke off all ties with Baghdad after al-Maliki accused them of illegally harboring terrorists in Arbil, the capital city Kurdistan. Located in northern Iraq, Kurdistan became its own self-governing region in 2005 after which it began to clash with al-Maliki over territorial and financial disputes.

The Kurdish Peshmerga, who spent years fighting Saddam Hussein's Baathist army, have been more effective at combating the Islamic State than the less experienced and, by comparison, less committed Iraqi military. In recent weeks, the Peshmerga fighters managed to secure the oil rich province of Kirkuk after the Iraqi army ceded the region to ISIS and fled. 

Despite their unity, the Kurdish Peshmerga forces have been stretched thin by the Islamic State's continuing and brutal onslaught, a senior Kurdish official told Reuters

The Islamic State [has] been intimidating people by carrying out beheadings," he said speaking to the news outlet under the condition of anonymity. "It is a very dangerous situation for the region," he added. "Something needs to be done soon."