On the 21st of October 2016, the Islamic State (IS) launched a surprise attack on the Iraqi city of Kirkuk. One set of attackers came from outside the city limits, circumventing the front-line and checkpoints, while a second group of sleeper cells attacked from within Kirkuk. The fighting lasted until the 24th of October, when the last IS militants were either killed or captured.1.http://derstandard.at/2000046407709/Gouverneur-Irakische-Streitkraefte-beendeten-IS-Angriff-auf-Kirkuk According to official Iraqi sources 76 IS fighters were killed; alongside this, 46 civilians and security personnel also reportedly died.2.http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/ausland/krieg-im-irak-streitkraefte-beenden-is-angriff-auf-kirkuk-14495695.html#GEPC;s30 The fighting began when two suicide bombers attacked a police station; other targets included government buildings, political party offices and a power plant north of the city. The power plant attack saw a particularly high number of casualties, as 13 people, including 5 Iranian contract workers, died in the fighting.3.https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/islamic-state-forces-attack-iraqs-oil-rich-city-of-kirkuk/2016/10/21/ab7a9d34-9706-11e6-9cae-2a3574e296a6_story.html4.http://www.militarytimes.com/articles/isis-attacks-kirkuk-and-a-power-plant-amid-mosul-fight
A second and equally large death toll was reported when an air strike struck a mosuqe and killed at least 13 civilians. According to Human Rights Watch, Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) aircraft or Iraqi Air Force vehicles were the likely perpetrators. A coalition spokesperson has since denied responsibility.5.https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/10/24/iraq-investigate-mosque-strike-killed-civilians The Iraqi Army has launched an investigation into the incident, but has been careful to not take responsibility for the attack.6.http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/iraq-mosque-daquq-airstrike-1.3818378 The Russian government has also accused the USA of being responsible for the strike.7.https://www.rt.com/news/363762-daquq-coalition-killed-civilians/
IS has previously used this tactic of staging surprise attacks while being under heavy pressure elsewhere. Many believe the tactic is indicative of desperation among the leadership, as they are looking to buy time and show that they remain strong to their members and supporters. Besides the heavy losses, the attack on Kirkuk is noteworthy for another reason. The defenders of the city showed signs of a rare unity when putting ethnic divisions aside. Peshmerga forces from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party (PUK) currently hold the city, but fighters from the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) and militants from the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) are also present.8.https://twitter.com/pmu_english/status/7893927594759290899.https://twitter.com/DefenceUnits/status/789473610922598400 All of the groups reportedly fought together when facing the threat from IS, and some civilians also took up arms and played a role in the fighting.10.http://rudaw.net/english/kurdistan/21102016
Despite the show of unity, once the fighting had finished, about 250 displaced Sunni Arab families taking refuge in Kirkuk were forced to leave.11.https://twitter.com/pmu_english/status/789624592042106880 The United Nations has called the move a form of collective punishment, while the Kirkuk authorities have not commented on the decision.12.http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-mideast-crisis-mosul-kirkuk-idUKKCN12P1M3?il=013.http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-iraq-kirkuk-idUSKCN12P111 The head of security, Azad Jabari, has, however, stated that he suspects some of the sleeper cells within the city had arrived posing as refugees.14.https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/22/attack-on-kirkuk-toxic-chemical-sulphur-fire-isis-pushes-troops-from-mosul-frontline?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter
Update November 2017
Kirkuk had been under the control of PUK Peshmerga until the 20th October 2017. After the independence referendum by the Kurdish Regional Government, Iraqi forces attacked Kirkuk to re-establish their control over the city. The casualties by this attack have been relatively low since most PUK Peshmerga peacefully withdrew from the city. Isolated clashes have occurred, with the Iraqi army and Popular Mobilization Units on one side and remnants of the Peshmerga, soldiers of the PKK and Kurdish civilians taking up arms on the other. As the Peshmerga forces quickly learned that they were out-gunned, they withdrew too. On the 20th October 2017 Iraqi Forces established full control over the city as well as over the entire Kirkuk governate.15.http://www.mena-watch.com/mena-analysen-beitraege/mena-watch-gespraech-die-aktuellen-entwicklungen-in-irakisch-kurdistan/16.https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-iraq-kurds-kirkuk/iraqi-forces-seize-oil-city-kirkuk-from-kurds-in-bold-advance-idUSKBN1CK0XL17.https://anfenglish.com/kurdistan/people-guerrilla-and-peshmerga-shoulder-to-shoulder-in-kirkuk-2272418.https://twitter.com/CivilWarMap/status/919922915218423809 The issue remains thorny and has prompted numerous debates between Erbil and Baghdad, though the Kurdish forces have indicated they are not willing to fight over the city.
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