Iraq forces press Mosul assault, hunt Kirkuk attackers
Iraqi forces battled on Sunday through booby-traps, 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 Sunday on Bashiqa northeast of Mosul where some 10,000 fighters are engaged in a huge assault to take the IS-held town.
The push came with US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter in Iraq’s autonomous region of Kurdistan to support the unprecedented offensive, which a US-led coalition is backing with air and ground support.
Launched last Monday, 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.
The jihadists hit back on Friday with a surprise assault on the Kurdish-controlled city of Kirkuk and two days later security forces were still tracking down fighters involved in the attack.
The dozens of attackers, including several suicide bombers, failed to seize control of key government buildings but sowed chaos in Kirkuk, a large oil-rich and ethnically mixed city.
At least 51 of the jihadists had been killed, including three more on Sunday, local security officials said.
Sporadic clashes continued, a senior security official said, with forces besieging IS gunmen in Kirkuk’s Nidaa neighbourhood.
At least 46 people, most of them members of the security forces, were killed in the raid and ensuing clashes.
Kurdish and other forces were also tracking down jihadists believed to have fled Kirkuk on Saturday to rural areas east of the city.
IS jihadists 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 on Sunday.
The attackers briefly seized the mayor’s office but security forces quickly regained the upper hand, he said.
The spectacular attack in Kirkuk, of a type observers warned could happen more often as IS loses territory and reverts to a traditional insurgency, temporarily drew attention away from Mosul.
But there was no sign it had any significant impact on the offensive to retake the city, Iraq’s largest military operation in years.
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