ISIS’ Kirkuk raid spreads. US air force in action
Kurdish General. Mariwan Mohammed
The raid of Iraq’s northern oil city of Kirkuk launched by the Islamic State Friday began to spread Saturday, Oct. 22 to surrounding towns. debkafile’s military sources report that ISIS fighters headed south from Kirkuk in two heads. One tried to enter Laylan, a town 21 km south of the oil city, which was defended by Kurdish Peshmerga and Turkman paramilitary forces; the second seized the crossroads of Rtes 2, 3 and 24 to sever Kirkuk from Baghdad.
When Kirkuk first came under attack, the Kurdish defenders still left there appealed for US air support against the Islamist invaders. The US air force went into action late Friday. They first targeted ISIS sniper positions on the town’s highest rooftops. Then, the next day US aircraft struck twin targets: the jihadist fighters storming Laylan and the fighters heading down the roads to the south of Kirkuk.
Nonetheless, up until Saturday pm, ISIS was still in control of at least five of the oil city’s neighborhoods as well as buildings in the town center, including government offices.
Meanwhile, the Kurdish Peshmerga, according to our military sources, dispatched to Kirkuk their special counterterrorism unit to dislodge the raiders. Kurdish sources also warned that this city was only the first of a row of Iraqi towns still in ISIS sights. They added that they would not be surprised to find the Islamists heading out to strike European towns as well.
Iraqi and Kurdish sources have since Friday been throwing out high ISIS casualty figures and reporting that many were put to flight. They were attempting to play down the scale of the raid on Kirkuk.
In fact, our sources report that the Islamists found extra numbers and ammunition caches waiting for them in two places – sleeper cells in Kirkuk and local Sunni sympathizers.
The numbers of civilian casualties and refugees mounting since the onset of the Mosul operation are mounting, causing grave concern to the UN and international aid agencies.
debkafile first reported on the ISIS raid of Kirkuk Friday.
No one doubted that the US-Iraqi-Kurdish offensive to liberate Mosul would be drawn out and fraught with unforeseen setbacks before the Islamic State was finally thrown out of its Iraqi capital. But on Oct. 21, five days into the Mosul operation, the ISIS terrorists landed their most severe blow, when Islamist fighters and suicide bombers suddenly hurled themselves on the Iraqi oil city of Kirkuk in a coordinated attack.
debkafile’s military sources report that taking advantage of a chance to catch the US, Iraqi and Kurdish generals leading the attack on Mosul unawares, the Islamist fighters were able to open a second front to the rear of the main battle arena against ISIS.
Kirkuk is some 175km southeast of Mosul and 230km from Baghdad. By hitting this important oil city, the terrorists came close to enough to menace the autonomous Kurdish Regional Government region and its capital, Irbil, and expose the Kurdish Peshmerga troops fighting for Mosul.
Our military sources note that a large Peshmerga force of some 11,000 troops had been posted to secure the town and its oil fields, under the command of Gen. Mariwan Mohammed.
But then, on Wednesday, Oct. 19, the US-Iraqi-Kurdish joint command of the Mosul offensive decided that Kurdish reinforcements were necessary to provide the operation with greater impetus. The extra Peshmerga troops were accordingly ordered to set out from Khazar, 40 km east of Mosul, and join the coalition offensive.
However, what they missed, despite the mainly American spy satellites, drones and reconnaissance planes collecting intelligence, was an ISIS concentration clandestinely building up at Hawja, 57km east of Kirkuk. According to our military sources, some of the jihadists reported by the Western media to have turned tail on the run from Mosul had been gathering to the southeast, some 57km from Kirkuk. They stood ready to attack that town.
Their opportunity came when the large Kurdish group exited Kirkuk and headed out to Mosul. Kirkuk was left exposed without defenders.
Friday morning, the Islamic State launched its surprise attack on the defenseless oil city. Its fighters and suicide bombers slammed into four police stations, Kurdish security offices, residential neighborhoods and a power station to the north. Clashes continued during the day with unknown casualty figures on both sides.
At some point, the governor claimed control of the city was regained but residents reported the clashes continued.
ISIS said in a statement it had seized “half the city” and had also attacked the Dubiz power plant, killing all the security forces inside, but the claims were not possible to verify.