IS attack on Kirkuk diverts troops from Mosul frontlines
A few long hours this morning saw Islamic State group fighters openly walk the streets of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk in Iraq, in scenes reminiscent of the group's capture of Mosul more than two years ago.
"Sleeper cells" within the city were joined by militants believed to be from nearby Hawija, who entered the town in two police vehicles and launched a major offensive on the city.
The offensive saw attacks on four districts - Domis, Hay Akskari, Majedeia and the city centre. They also attacked the Dibis power station just outside the city.
The casualty rate is believed to be in the tens, and is likely to rise.
Razwan, 32, who fled the city around noon, told The New Arab that IS fighters were "wandering the streets as if they were the government or police".
"They had been knocking on doors and took to the tannoys of the city's mosques telling us to rise up against the Rafidi army and the Americans would soon arrive to bomb our women and children," he said.
US-led coalition jets were understood to have bombed a shrine in Dakuk, killing 15 women just south of the Kurdish-controlled city on Friday.
|Read more: Day of bloodshed follows IS counter-attack in Kirkuk|
A motley coalition of Kurdish Police, PKK fighters and Western special forces were urgently called to the city by Kirkuk's governor to stave off the assault. Kurdish Peshmerga were also redirected from the Khazir frontlines - one of the busiest battlefronts east of Mosul - to combat the militants.
|Islamic State group losses after five days of battle for Mosul|
- 473 militants killed or injured
- 95 wheel bombs destroyed
- 21 detachment mortars destroyed
- Seven explosive belts destroyed
- Large arms storage destroyed
- Four explosive-laden houses destroyed
- 352 controlled explosions
- Five suspect motorcycles detonated
- Three tunnels destroyed
- 1.5 tons of ammonium nitrate seized
- 380 120mm mortar rounds seized
- 31 missile launchers seized
- Dozens of machine guns and small arms seized
Authorities declared a curfew in the city, instructing those trapped in the affected areas to stay in their homes.
However even as late as this afternoon, IS were still roaming certain parts of the city, claiming they were now Kirkuk's legitimate authority.
At one point, the group claimed via its Amaq "media agency" to be in control of half of the city.
However, organic resistance was also quick to develop, with several hundred Kirkuk residents taking up arms and forming militia to defend the city. One group went as far as hanging a captured fighter from a post on live television, while other images showed dead IS militants being dragged through the streets tied to cars.
With professional forces beginning to clear the city, IS was not expected hold out for more than a few more hours, however having succeeded in redirecting forces from an active front line, it is clear that any complacency about the ongoing Mosul operation is misplaced.
IS fighters still represent a potent force, and have today demonstrated their ability to coordinate lethal attacks behind enemy lines.
Kirkuk, with a population of more than 600,000 has had a troubled history in recent years. An oil-rich city, it was captured by Kurdish forces in June 2014, after the Iraqi army (ISF) fled in the face of the IS offensive to capture the city of Mosul.
Follow Gareth Browne on Twitter: @BrowneGareth