Iraq pushes into town; 80 dead in IS at­tack

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - NATION + WORLD -

BARTELLA, IRAQ >> The Iraqi army pushed into a town near the Is­lamic State-held city of Mo­sul on Satur­day, a day af­ter dozens of IS mil­i­tants stormed into the north­ern city of Kirkuk, set­ting off two days of clashes and killing at least 80 peo­ple, mostly se­cu­rity forces.

U.S. De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash Carter mean­while met with Iraq’s prime min­is­ter and com­man­ders in Bagh­dad to dis­cuss the of­fen­sive to re­take Mo­sul, which the U.S. is sup­port­ing with airstrikes and ad­vis­ers on the ground.

The Iraqi army said the 9th Divi­sion has pushed into the town of Ham­daniyah, also known as Qaraqosh and Bakhdida, and raised the flag over its gov­ern­ment com­pound, but the troops were likely still fac­ing re­sis­tance in and around the town. Sim­i­lar past an­nounce­ments have of­ten proved pre­ma­ture.

The town is about 12 miles from Mo­sul. Iraqi forces launched a wide-scale of­fen­sive ear­lier this week aimed at re­tak­ing Mo­sul, the coun­try’s sec­ond largest city, which fell to IS in 2014.

Ham­daniyah is be­lieved to be largely un­in­hab­ited. IS has heav­ily mined the ap­proaches to Mo­sul, and Iraqi forces have had to con­tend with road­side bombs, snipers and sui­cide truck bombs as they move closer to the city.

IS said it foiled an at­tack on Ham­daniyah and seized ve­hi­cles and weapons left by re­treat­ing Shi­ite mili­ti­a­men. The claim, car­ried by the ex­trem­ist group’s Aa­maq news agency, could not be con­firmed.

An Iraqi tele­vi­sion sta­tion said one of its re­porters was shot dead near Mo­sul, the sec­ond jour­nal­ist in as many days to be killed while cov­er­ing the con­flict.

Al­sumaria TV says cam­era­man Ali Risan was shot in the chest by a sniper Satur­day dur­ing a bat­tle in the al-Shura area. Jour­nal­ist Ah­met Haceroglu of Turkmeneli TV was shot dead by a mil­i­tant sniper Fri­day, while cov­er­ing the IS as­sault on Kirkuk.

Iraqi forces re­took the town of Bartella, around nine miles east of Mo­sul, ear­lier this week but are still fac­ing pock­ets of re­sis­tance in the area.

In Kirkuk, mean­while, some fight­ing con­tin­ued a day af­ter the IS as­sault on the city, some 100 miles south­east of Mo­sul. The wave of at­tacks in and around Kirkuk ap­peared to be an at­tempt to di­vert at­ten­tion from Mo­sul.

Brig. Gen. Khat­tab Omer of the Kirkuk po­lice said at least 80 peo­ple were killed in the as­sault, mainly Kur­dish se­cu­rity forces. Another 170 were wounded, he said, adding that a sun­down cur­few has been im­posed on the city.

Omer said Kur­dish se­cu­rity forces re­cov­ered the bod­ies of 56 mil­i­tants who took part in the at­tack.

The Kurds as­sumed con­trol of Kirkuk in 2014, when the Iraqi army and po­lice crum­bled in the face of a light­ning IS ad­vance across north­ern Iraq.

Iraq’s Prime Min­is­ter Haider al-Abadi said the Kirkuk as­sault was a ter­ror­ist at­tack and not a mil­i­tary breach.

“Nearly all the ter­ror­ists who en­tered Kirkuk have been elim­i­nated, and we have full con­trol, ex­cept for maybe one area where they are be­ing flushed out,” he said af­ter meet­ing with Carter.

As the as­sault on Kirkuk was un­der­way, an airstrike hit a funeral pro­ces­sion in the town of Daquq to the south, killing 17 peo­ple, mainly women and chil­dren, and wound­ing another 50, said Daquq Mayor Amir Kho­dakram. He said it was not clear who car­ried out the airstrike and that of­fi­cials have launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The Rus­sian De­fense Min­istry blamed the strike on the U.S.-led coali­tion, say­ing it had “all the signs of a war crime.” Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, the spokesman for the min­istry, said two jets were in­volved in the raid, and ap­par­ently mis­took the pro­ces­sion for a gath­er­ing of mil­i­tants.

MARKO DROBNJAKOVIC — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Iraqi and Kur­dish forces hold Satur­day an Is­lamic State flag found in Bartella, Iraq, af­ter the town was lib­er­ated ear­lier this week about 10 miles east of Mo­sul. Pock­ets of re­sis­tance are still be­ing mopped up.

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