Nearly 100 dead as Iraq forces battle ISIL raiders in Kirkuk
Kirkuk, Iraq // Security forces battled ISIL attackers in Kirkuk for a second day on Saturday as the death toll from the militants’ surprise attack on the Kurdish-controlled city neared 100.
Snipers and suspected suicide bombers from the extremist group were still at large, prompting Baghdad to send reinforcements.
Special counter-terrorism and intelligence units were hunting down some of the dozens of ISIL fighters who stormed public buildings in the early hours of Friday.
“We have 46 dead and 133 wounded, most of them members of the security services, as result of the clashes with Daesh,” said a military officer at the interior ministry.
The toll was confirmed by a source at the Kirkuk health directorate, which called for blood donations for the wounded.
Kirkuk’s police chief said 48 attackers had been killed so far and several others wounded, including a Libyan believed to be among the raid’s leaders.
“The security forces control the situation now but there are still pockets of jihadists in some southern and eastern neighbourhoods,” Brig Gen Khattab Omar Aref said.
The area around the provincial headquarters, where the fighting was heaviest on Friday, was quiet. But witnesses said there were continuing clashes in the Asra Wa Mafkudin area, where at least two ISIL fighters were killed on Saturday.
The large-scale “inghimasi” attack – a militant operation in which gunmen, often wearing suicide vests, intend to sow chaos and fight to the death rather than achieve any military goal – caught Kirkuk off guard.
Iraqi and Kurdish forces have been focused on the campaign launched on Monday to retake the city of Mosul, about 150 kilometres north-west, from ISIL. One of the Kirkuk attackers captured on Friday said the raid was planned by ISIL leader Abubakr Al Baghdadi to “reduce the pressure on the Mosul front”.
Residents of Kirkuk, the hub of an oil-producing region about 240km north of Baghdad, woke up on Friday to find ISIL militants roaming the streets of several neighbourhoods. They used mosque loudspeakers to broadcast praise of their self-proclaimed “caliphate”, which has been shrinking steadily since last year and is looking closer than ever to collapse.
Abu Omar spent 24 hours locked up in his home with his wife, mother and three children.
“It felt as if this day lasted a year,” the 40-year-old butcher said. “We could hear shooting and explosions all the time but we didn’t dare venture outside to see what was happening.”
Iraq prime minister Haider Al Abadi announced late on Friday that he was sending reinforcements to Kirkuk but there was no sign of any major effect on the operations of Iraqi forces around Mosul.
ISIL suicide attackers also killed 12 Iraqis and four Iranians in an attack on Friday morning on a power plant being built north of Kirkuk by an Iranian company.
* Agence France-Presse and Associated Press
Updated: October 22, 2016 04:00 AM