ISIS strikes at Kirkuk in Iraq coun­ter­at­tack

Baltimore Sun - - WORLD - By Emad Matti and Adam Schreck

KIRKUK, Iraq — Is­lamic State mil­i­tants launched a wave of pre-dawn at­tacks Fri­day in and around the north­ern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, killing at least 14 peo­ple and set­ting off fierce clashes with Kur­dish se­cu­rity forces.

The as­sault ap­peared aimed at di­vert­ing at­ten­tion from the Iraqi of­fen­sive to re­take Mo­sul, and raised fears the ex­trem­ists could lash out in un­pre­dictable ways as they de­fend the largest city un­der their con­trol and their last ur­ban bas­tion in Iraq.

Mul­ti­ple ex­plo­sions rocked Kirkuk, and gun­fire rang out around the pro­vin­cial head­quar­ters, where the fight­ing was con­cen­trated.

Smoke bil­lowed over the city, and the streets were largely de­serted out of fear of mil­i­tant snipers. The Is­lamic State, also called ISIS, said its fight­ers tar­geted the pro­vin­cial head­quar­ters in a claim car­ried by its Aa­maq news agency.

North of the city, three sui­cide bombers stormed a power plant in the town of Dibis, killing 13 work­ers, be­fore blow­ing them­selves up as po­lice ar­rived, said Maj. Ahmed Kader Ali, the Dibis po­lice chief.

Iran’s For­eign Min­istry spokesman, Bahram Ghasemi, con­demned the as­sault, ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial IRNA news agency.

The Turkmeneli TV sta­tion, which had ear­lier shown live footage of smoke ris­ing from out­side t he pro­vin­cial head­quar­ters, said in a news bulletin that one of its re­porters, Ah­met Haceroglu, was killed by a sniper while cov­er­ing the fight­ing.

There was no im­me­di­ate word on ca­su­al­ties among other civil­ians or the Kur­dish forces in Kirkuk. Po­lice and hos­pi­tal of­fi­cials could not be reached for com­ment.

Kirkuk is some 100 miles from the ISIS-held city of Mo­sul, where Iraqi forces launched a wide-scale of­fen­sive Mon­day.

ISIS has in the past re­sorted to sui­cide bomb­ings in and around Bagh- dad in re­sponse to bat­tle­field losses else­where in the coun­try.

Kirkuk is an oil-rich city claimed by both Iraq’s cen­tral gov­ern­ment and the largely au­ton­o­mous Kur­dish re­gion. Kur­dish forces as­sumed full con­trol of the city in the sum­mer of 2014, as Iraq’s army and po­lice crum­bled in the face of a light­ning ad­vance by ISIS.

Iraqi and Kur­dish forces backed by a U.S.-led coali­tion launched the mul­ti­pronged as­sault Mon­day to re­take Mo­sul and sur­round­ing ar­eas — the largest op­er­a­tion un­der­taken by the Iraqi mil­i­tary since the 2003 U.S.-led in­va­sion.

By Thurs­day, the Iraqi forces had ad­vanced as far as Bartella, a his­tor­i­cally Chris­tian town some nine miles from Mo­sul’s out­skirts.

Un­der ISIS rule, Chris­tians must con­vert to Is­lam or pay a spe­cial tax.

“Bartella was lib­er­ated yes­ter­day, and to­day we are in­side its church,” Lt. Gen. Talib Shaghati de­clared. “I bring the good news to our Chris­tian broth­ers that the church is lib­er­ated.”

KHALID MOHAMMED/AP

Iraqi coun­tert­er­ror­ism forces raise the coun­try’s flag Fri­day af­ter re­tak­ing Bartella, a his­tor­i­cally Chris­tian town near Mo­sul, where Iraqi forces launched an of­fen­sive Mon­day.

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