ISIL jihadists attack Iraq’s Kirkuk as Mosul operation continues
REU PhotoJihadist gunmen, some of them wearing suicide vests, attacked the Iraqi city of Kirkuk on Oct. 21 in an apparent effort to divert the thousands of troops and militiamen closing in on their Mosul stronghold.
The assault, together with another further north, left at least 22 people dead and came as pro-government forces were making major gains on the fifth day of their advance on the last major urban center held by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Iraq, Agence France-Presse reported.
Following the blasts, a curfew was imposed in Kirkuk, Doğan News Agency’s Kirkuk reporter told private broadcaster CNN Türk on Oct. 21.
An AFP correspondent saw a group of men carrying rifles and grenades and wearing “Afghan-style clothes” walk down a street in Kirkuk, a city to the south of Mosul under the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
At least five suicide bombers struck government targets in the city, including the main police headquarters, in a coordinated attack that began in the middle of the night.
ISIL claimed the attack, according to the Amaq news agency that is affiliated with the group.
Gunfire and explosions echoed across the city all morning, residents said, and live footage on local television showed street battles in several neighborhoods, according to AFP.
“Around morning prayers, I saw several [ISIL fighters] enter al-Mohammadi mosque,” Haidar Abdelhussein, a teacher who lives in the Tesaeen neighborhood, told AFP.
“They used the loudspeakers to shout ‘Allahu Akbar’ [God is greatest] and ‘Dawla al-Islam baqiya’ [Islamic State will remain],” he said.
The governor of Kirkuk, Najmeddin Karim, told AFP he suspected the involvement of ISIL sleeper cells.
According to Amaq, the jihadist group claimed to control half of the city but reports from witnesses and security officers suggest that may be an exaggeration.
Kirkuk lies 240 kilometers north of Baghdad, in an oil-rich region.
Kurdish peshmerga fighters have played a major role in the advance on Mosul – Iraq’s biggest military operation in years – and both they and federal security forces have made gains on several fronts since the operation was launched by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Oct. 17.
Political and military leaders have praised what they say is faster than expected progress, with ISIL offering deadly but so far ineffective resistance as forces backed by air strikes steamroll toward the edge of Iraq’s second city.
Also on the morning of Oct. 21, gunmen wearing suicide vests stormed a power plant being built by an Iranian company near Dibis, a town southeast of the Mosul offensive’s main area of operations, and just 40 kilometers from Kirkuk.
“Three suicide bombers attacked the power plant at around 6 a.m., killing 12 Iraqi administrators and engineers and four Iranian technicians,” Dibis Mayor Abdullah Nureddin al-Salehi told AFP.
A police lieutenant-colonel confirmed the casualty toll from the attack, which was also claimed by ISIL.