Iraqi forces on Sunday battled 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.
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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 today — 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. Carter said on Sunday that the idea of simultaneous operations against Mosul and Raqa in Syria “has been part of our planning for quite a while”. He also said destroying IS’s external operations capabilities was “our highest priority”.
The jihadists on Friday staged a surprise assault on Iraq’s Kurdish-controlled city of Kirkuk, and two days later security forces were still tracking down IS fighters there. The dozens of attackers, including several suicide bombers, failed to seize key government buildings but sowed chaos in the large oil-rich and ethnically mixed city.
At least 51 of the jihadists have been killed, including three more today, local security officials said. At least 46 people, most of them in the security forces, were also killed in the raid and ensuing clashes, which had almost completely ceased by late today. Life was returning to normal in some parts of Kirkuk, but security forces in southern neighbourhoods were still hunting for several gunmen.
IS 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.
The spectacular attack in Kirkuk, of a type observers warned could happen more often as IS loses territory and reverts to a traditional insurgency, temporarily drew attention away from Mosul. But there was no sign it had any significant impact on the offensive to retake the city, Iraq’s largest military operation in years.
Tens of thousands of fighters, including Iraqi federal troops and Kurdish peshmerga, are taking part in the assault. Engaged on the northern and eastern fronts, the peshmerga are expected to stop along a line at an average of 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the boundaries of the city proper.