ISIS attacks Kirkuk in attempt to delay Hawija operation, distract Mosul campaign

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Militants of the Islamic State. File photo

ARA News

Erbil – Islamic State (ISIS) militants on Friday launched an attack on security buildings and a power station in the city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq. More than 40 people died, including several civilians. Analysts believe that the attack was an attempt to delay the imminent Hawija offensive.

Security cameras showed that ISIS jihadists infiltrated into Kirkuk one night before their attack. The jihadists purportedly connected with a sleeper cell that was already inside the city.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has imposed a curfew and blocked road access to Kirkuk. Local sources say that coalition airstrikes hit ISIS positions in the city of Kirkuk, but this could not be confirmed.

“The city is under the control of the security forces. A few ISIS fighters are trapped in two buildings in Asrao Mafqodeen and Domiz. Security forces including counter terrorism units are clearing those neighborhoods,” Yousif Ismael, the former chief of staff for the governor of Kirkuk, told ARA News. 

“ISIS is targeting Kirkuk to distract Mosul campaign and to delay Hawija operation. It’s their last chance in the area since they are constantly deteriorating,” Ismael said. “They are trying to shift the focus to Kirkuk, but most likely they will be defeated in Kirkuk city today.”

Kirkuk’s People are United

The former chief of staff commended the residents of Kirkuk for their staunch resistance and for rallying together when faced with adversity. “Kirkuk’s people are united more than ever, ready to face any threat by ISIS,” he said.

Currently, ISIS only holds positions in Aruba District and a hotel in the city’s downtown core. ARA News sources reported seeing more than ten dead ISIS jihadist littering the road into Aruba neighbourhood. Armed civilians hanged an ISIS fighter in the streets, after capturing him.

“We were expecting attacks on Kirkuk, as the battle for Mosul has begun and Hawija becomes the next target,” Ranj Talabani, a Kurdish security analyst, said.

“Kirkuk has been kept relatively safe until today and it’s clear that ISIS have spent a lot of time planning today’s operations. We have some ISIS-individuals in custody so once they are interviewed it will be clearer how they entered the city in such large numbers,” Talabani told ARA News.

The Would-Be Caliphate

Talabani believes that ISIS has been deeply degraded, arguing that Friday’s attack demonstrated the weakness of their would-be ‘Caliphate.’ “They want to show they are still a force to be reckoned with in Iraq but we believe these are the last big moments of the so-called Islamic State,” he said.

According to Michael Knights, a researcher at the Washington Institute, ISIS has been planning a distraction or revenge attack in Kirkuk city for months. “This does not come as a complete surprise to Kirkuk’s [Peshmerga],” Knights told ARA News. “ISIS militants are trying to give the sense that they can go on the offensive in Iraq.”

“This is an alarming attack but it could have been much worse if not for the efforts over the last six months of the security forces,” Knights stated. “It does not represent ISIS counterattacking: this is just a vindictive revenge attack because ISIS is collapsing in Mosul, Sharqat and soon Hawijah.” 

“ISIS attack in Kirkuk shouldn’t be surprising,” said Ranj Alaaldin, a Visiting Fellow at Brookings Doha. “ISIS almost always attempts to shift attention elsewhere. The scale of their attacks shouldn’t be exaggerated.”

None of the analysts ARA News spoke to seemed overly surprised by the attack, nor did they interpret it as a demonstration of strength. Alaaldin told ARA News: “These attacks show that ISIS can still present problems and challenge the security environment, but that doesn’t mean the organisation is getting stronger, only that it’s still around. It’s the group’s way of making its presence felt at a time when it’s on the decline.”

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg | Source: ARA News 

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