At least 19 people, including 6 police officers, will killed in a predawn attack by the Islamic State in the Kurdish-controlled city.
UNITED NATIONS – The Islamic State mounted a counter-attack against the Iraqi city of Kirkuk on Friday, an apparent attempt to shift focus away from the ongoing liberation of the major I.S.-controlled city of Mosul.
According to early estimates from Kirkuk, at least 19 people were killed in a string of attacks, including at least six police officers.
But the targets of the attack point to the Islamic State’s weakness compared to Kirkuk’s Kurdish stewards. The police station targeted in Friday’ s pre-dawn attack was a decommissioned post, and the facility was guarded primarily by night watchmen.
A power plant also targeted in the attack was among the smaller in the city, while one hotel struck by the terror group was still under construction. According to Kirkuk Governor Najmaldin Karim, no government buildings were successfully captured by Islamic State fighters, and Kurdish forces had reestablished control of the city by the end of the day.
“They do seem to be trying to hit back in Kirkuk to change the narrative, to fill the news cycle,” Michael Knights, Lafer Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said of Friday’s attack.
Knight sees in the Kirkuk attack an attempt by the Islamic State to introduce “new kinks” into a narrative increasingly focused on the terror group’s eventual demise in Mosul.
“Oh, I know: ISIS counterattack,” he said, imagining the thinking of I.S. leaders in authorizing today’s attack. “Oh wow, do they really have that much strength left? They’re fighting back. Wow, they’re really throwing us for a loop there.”
“No. they didn’t. They just did a couple of pathetic attacks in Kirkuk city because that’s about all they could do right now.”
Knights concedes Friday’s death toll would constitute a major terror attack in almost any other country, “in the context of Iraq at war, this is an attempt to distract the media from the real story, which is ISIS collapsing in Mosul.”
Senior U.S. military officials were less willing to brush aside Friday’s attacks, noting that an investigation is underway to determine whether the perpetrators were members of a sleeper cell that may have been based within the city.
A large number of sleeper cells have been broken up around Kirkuk in recent months, and Governor Najmaldin Karim said Friday that, “it was always possible that ISIS sleeper cells in Kirkuk would be activated to create chaos.”
Unlike Erbil, the well-guarded capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, Knights said Erbil is something like the “lungs” of the I.S.-Kurdish front line.
“Kirkuk’s the bit where we kind of breathe in [internally displaced people] and they get distributed through the bloodstream of Kurdistan,” he said. “So if you’re going to try and get something through, you’re going to pass it through Kirkuk, and we’ve detected and disrupted a lot of that.”