IS attacks Iraq's Kirkuk to scuttle Mosul offensive
In photo: Iraqi Kurdish security forces deploy in the southern Domiz neighbourhood of Kirkuk on October 21, 2016. Photograph: (AFP)
Islamic State commandos launched an attack on Kirkuk, an important city located south of Mosul, currently under a territorial dispute between the Iraqi central government and the Kurdish Regional Government.
IS attacked a power plant located in Dubis, a town approximately 40 kilometres from Kirkuk, with car bombs. According to official figures, 18 employees died in the attack.
According to Kurdish media group, Rudaw Media Network, a sniper blew himself up in front of the hotel where he was hiding.
The action could be considered an attack rather than a counter-attack. Kirkuk was considered to be a safe city, under full control of Kurdish security forces. It is most likely an action planned by the IS in order to divert military personnel from the main frontline.
Yesterday, Peshmerga forces launched a major offensive aiming to reconquer the city of Bashiqa, and encountered significant resistance, resulting in an unconfirmed number of deaths. Unofficial reports speak about figures close to 100.
WION sources within the city walls said many citizens joined the security forces with their own weapons in order to intensify the patrolling and prevent further IS actions. Many of the organisations present in Iraqi Kurdistan are also present with their own soldiers in Kirkuk. Among the others, guerrilla fighters of the Worker’s Kurdistan Party (PKK), an organisation labelled as terrorist both by Turkey and the US, have also joined.
Several parts of the cities are under strict curfew and people have been asked by the security forces not to leave their homes. Checkpoints to reach the city have been blocked and only military personnel are allowed to enter Kirkuk.
Mosques have been closed during the day in order to avoid every possible risk, especially after the end of the Friday prayers, when a significant number of people leave the places of worship.
The attack against Kirkuk poses questions about IS's action in the coming weeks. The Mosul offensive was a long awaited one and probably gave enough time to the Islamist terrorist group to organise such an action.
It is still not clear whether the IS attack in Kirkuk is a sign of strength or weakness. Official figures of the number of fighters IS has deployed to defend Mosul and its surroundings vary widely.
The IS is most likely aware of the little chance they have in retaining control over Mosul, their last stronghold in Iraq. The Kirkuk attack represents a warfare tactic to diffuse the offensive, in order to check the morale of the regular troops and force them into quick and unplanned deployments. In this phase, IS will try to cause maximum harm, regardless of their fate in Mosul.