Iraq forces press Mosul assault, hunt Kirkuk attackers
IRAQI forces battled through boobytraps, sniper fire and suicide car bombs to tighten the noose around Mosul, while also hunting Islamic State group jihadists behind attacks elsewhere in the country.
Kurdish forces announced a new push at dawn on Bashiqa, northeast of Mosul, where some 10,000 fighters are engaged in a huge assault to take the IS-held town.
Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the peshmerga had requested and received military assistance in the form of artillery, tanks and howitzers.
Ankara’s claim came a day after Baghdad turned down a suggestion by visiting US Defence chief Ashton Carter – who met Kurdish leader Massud Barzani – that Turkey be given a part in the battle.
Launched on October 17, the assault aims to reclaim the last major Iraqi city under IS control, dealing another setback to the jihadists’ self-declared “caliphate” in Iraq and neighbouring Syria.
Mr Carter said the idea of simultaneous operations against Mosul and Raqa in Syria “has been part of our planning for quite a while”, adding that destroying IS’s operations capabilities was “our highest priority”.
The jihadists on October 21 staged a surprise assault on Iraq’s Kurdish-controlled city of Kirkuk, and two days later security forces were still tracking down IS fighters there.
The dozens of attackers, including several suicide bombers, failed to seize key government buildings but sowed chaos in the large oil-rich and ethnically mixed city.
At least 51 of the jihadists have been killed, including three more on October 23, local security officials said, adding 46 people, most of them in the security forces, were also killed in the raid and ensuing clashes.
Life was returning to normal in some parts of Kirkuk, but security forces in southern neighbourhoods were still hunting for gunmen.
The IS also attacked Rutba, a remote town near the Jordanian border in the western province of Anbar, with five suicide car bombs, the area’s top army commander said.
The attackers briefly seized the mayor’s office but security forces quickly regained the upper hand and took back control, he said.
Observers have expressed deep concern for an estimated 1.2 million civilians still believed to be in the city.
Over 5000 people are currently displaced and in need of humanitarian assistance, the United Nations said, adding that the number could spike to 1 million, sparking an unprecedented humanitarian emergency in a country where more than 3 million people have already been forced from their homes since the start of 2014. –
Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani (left) welcomes US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter ahead of a meeting in Arbil on October 23.