Iraq has launched a major operation to liberate the town of Amerli which has been besieged by Islamic State fighters for more than two months.

The operation to retake town started on Saturday with Iraqi troops and Shia militia involved in the fighting. The AFP news agency reported that Kurdish peshmerga were also involved in the operation.

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Residents, the majority of whom are Shia Turkmen, are short of food and water, and are in danger because of their faith and their resistance to the armed group.

Al Jazeera's Jane Arraf, reporting from Baghdad, said men in the town had already taken up arms against the Islamic State group.

"They're backed by Shia militia members who have been flown into the town by Iraqi helicopters - then around that you've got the circle of Islamic State fighters and around that from both sides you have the militias and the Iraqi army."

"If the operation fails the fear is it could lead to even more sectarian violence."

The Islamic State group, an al-Qaeda off-shoot formerly known as ISIL, has declared an Islamic caliphate in large swathes of territory it seized in recent months in Syria and Iraq.

The Turkmen, ethnically Turkish, are Iraq’s third largest ethnic group after Arabs and Kurds. Most are Sunni Muslim. The Shia Turkmen have long been a target of the IS predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq. 

Amerli itself in 2007 was hit by a suicide truck bomb which killed more than 150 people in one of the most lethal attacks in post-war Iraq.

Meanwhile the GCC group of countries - Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE - pledged on Saturday a readiness to fight the "terrorist ideology which is contrary to Islam". 

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah warned that the threat from such armed groups would soon spread to Europe and the US unless it is quickly dealt with in the Middle East. 

"If no action is taken against IS, for sure after a month they will reach Europe and in another month they will reach the US. I'm telling you now and you have to keep this in mind. I call upon you leaders to take this warning seriously."

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies