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Battle for Mosul: Explaining Daesh’s assault on Kirkuk

A summary of the events on the ground during the Battle for Mosul in Iraq.

A summary of the events on the ground during the Battle for Mosul in Iraq.

What happened?

Yesterday, Daesh launched a surprise attack on Kirkuk as US-backed ISF, Peshmerga and Shia militias advanced on Mosul, Iraq’s second city. Daesh attacked the Dibis power station as well as police and government facilities with fighting continuing sporadically today. So far, 55 Kurdish security personnel and civilians have been confirmed as killed.

Where did it happen?

Kirkuk is 170 kilometres southeast of Mosul and is an oil-rich city disputed by both Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) who both claim the city. However, it has been held by Kurdish Peshmerga forces since Daesh forced the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) to flee in 2014.

How did it happen?

Daesh’s attack on Kirkuk was blamed on “sleeper cells” that activated once the US-backed assault on Mosul began. However, it is unlikely that this is entirely the case as some militants reportedly entered the city in police cars and were reinforced by fighters hailing from Daesh-held Hawija, about 30 kilometres west.

Kirkuki civilians reported hearing many of the Daesh fighters speaking Kurdish amongst themselves, indicating severe and significant intelligence failures on the part of the Kurdish authorities and the Iraqi military command.

Daesh are very active in the area between Al-Qayyarah, Shirqat and Hawija and the ISF’s failure to secure these rear areas before moving on Mosul raises questions about the ultimate cost of the bid to recapture Mosul. The fact that Daesh forced Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi to order reinforcements to move on Kirkuk today shows that Daesh is far from finished and can still conduct serious operations behind enemy lines.

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