Sunday 23 October 2016

Iraq forces press Mosul assault, hunt Kirkuk attackers

Iraqi forces battled Sunday through booby-traps, sniper fire and suicide car bombs to tighten the noose around Mosul, while also hunting Islamic State group jihadists behind attacks elsewhere in the country.

Kurdish forces announced a new push at dawn on Bashiqa, northeast of Mosul, where some 10,000 fighters are engaged in a huge assault to take the IS-held town.

Turkey said the peshmerga had requested assistance from its soldiers at a base near Bashiqa and announced it offered support with artillery and tanks.

Ankara’s claim came a day after Baghdad turned down a suggestion by visiting US Defence chief Ashton Carter – who met Kurdish leader Massud Barzani on Sunday — for Turkey to be given a part in the battle.

Launched last Monday, the assault aims to reclaim the last major Iraqi city under IS control, dealing another setback to the jihadists’ self-declared “caliphate” in Iraq and neighbouring Syria.

The jihadists hit back on Friday with a surprise assault on the Kurdish-controlled city of Kirkuk and two days later security forces were still tracking down fighters involved in the attack.

The dozens of attackers, including several suicide bombers, failed to seize control of key government buildings but sowed chaos in Kirkuk, a large oil-rich and ethnically mixed city.

At least 51 of the jihadists had been killed, including three more on Sunday, local security officials said.

At least 46 people, most of them members of the security forces, were also killed in the raid and ensuing clashes, which had almost completely stopped by Sunday evening.

Life was returning to normal in some parts of the city but security forces were deployed in southern neighbourhoods where several gunmen were still actively being hunted.

IS jihadists also attacked Rutba, a remote town near the Jordanian border in the western province of Anbar, with five suicide car bombs, the area’s top army commander said on Sunday.

The attackers briefly seized the mayor’s office but security forces quickly regained the upper hand, he said.

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