THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Islamic State Militants Launch Offensive Outside Kurdish-Controlled Kirkuk

 

Senior Kurdish Commander Among the Dead in Surprise
Offensive in Northern Iraqi Region


By Nour Malas / Updated Jan. 30, 2015 3:17 p.m. ET


Islamic State militants launched their biggest offensive yet outside Kurdish-controlled Kirkuk
and tried to penetrate the city itself, part of a spate of brazen attacks by the extremist group
against Kurdish forces across Iraq on Friday.


A senior Kurdish commander, Brig. Gen. Sherko Fatih, was among at least six Kurdish forces
killed in the surprise attack just after midnight outside the northern Iraqi city, officials said.


As fighting raged outside the city, fighters from Islamic State, also known as ISIS, tried to break
into the Kirkuk Palace Hotel after detonating a car bomb in front of the hotel, a rare incursion
into the city center, officials said.


Kirkuk Gov. Najmaldin Karim said Kurdish forces and local police halted the hotel break-in,
killing three militants. The Kurdish forces, known as Peshmerga, “foiled today a break-in
operation by ISIS toward oil and gas installations from three directions that aimed at reaching the
center of Kirkuk,” Mr. Karim said.


After hours of fighting, Peshmerga officials also said they pushed the militants back from the
areas where they had advanced southwest of Kirkuk, focusing particularly on cutting their access
to roads leading to oil infrastructure.


Still, the strings of attacks on Friday are a fresh setback for Kurdish forces’ front against Islamic
State in Iraq. The militants have engaged the Peshmerga and other Kurdish forces around Erbil,
the capital of Iraq’s semiautonomous Kurdistan region, and areas farther south nearer to
Baghdad. But attacks around Kirkuk, the oil-rich city under Kurdish control, are rare.


Also Friday, Islamic State suicide bombers targeted Peshmerga forces in Jalawla, a Kurdishcontrolled
town in Diyala province, killing seven Peshmerga fighters. Bomb attacks struck
Baghdad and, north of it, the city of Samarra. In western Anbar province, an Islamic State
stronghold, militants launched fresh attacks on security forces holed out in Fallujah, security
officials said.


Officials in Baghdad and Erbil characterized the attacks across the country as signs Islamic State
was lashing out, after losing some momentum and ground in Iraq in recent weeks.


Iraqi Parliament speaker Salim al-Jabouri said the Islamic State offensive on Friday came as
“cover for the repeated defeats suffered by ISIS.” Mr. Jabouri called the Kirkuk attacks “a
desperate attempt to undermine stability and social peace witnessed by Kirkuk.”


U.S. officials say the U.S.-led bombing campaign against Islamic State has recently begun to
wear on the leadership and operational structure of the militant group, which seized chunks of
Iraq and Syria last year.


In Syria, Kurdish fighters backed by Syrian rebels and months of coalition airstrikes took back
the Kurdish city center of Kobani on the Turkish border, in a highly symbolic victory for both
the Kurds and the international coalition against Islamic State.


In Iraq, security forces and Shiite militias battling the Sunni extremist group have made progress
in some provinces, but Islamic State controls much of Anbar province in the West and has kept
control of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city.


In the north, the militants are still lodged in villages some 18 miles (30 kilometers) on the
outskirts of Erbil. Islamic State attacked the area southwest of Kirkuk, the same area under attack
on Friday, about two months ago but with less force, local officials said. In recent weeks, the
group had gathered suicide bombers and foreign fighters in the same area, in apparent
preparation for the new attack, the officials said.


Early Friday, under the cover of dark and a particularly foggy night, Islamic State launched the
Kirkuk attack from three areas south and west of the city, local officials said: Tal al-Ward, al-
Khalid, and Maryam Beik. Airstrikes by the international coalition to fight Islamic State
militants began to hit their vehicles in the area shortly after, the officials said.


Peshmerga sent in reinforcements and were joined by special counterterrorism forces from the
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan—an Iran-allied Kurdish force—in southern Kirkuk for
counterattacks, said Wista Rasool, operations commander in southern Kirkuk province.


By Friday afternoon, the Kurdish forces reseized key villages and roads leading to oil
infrastructure in the city, Mr. Rasool said. Another local security official said the Islamic State
commander leading Friday’s offensive was killed in the counterattack.


Dozens of residents across Kirkuk fired guns into the air to celebrate the apparent success of the
counterattack by Kurdish forces, witnesses said.


—Ghassan Adnan in Baghdad contributed to this article.
Write to Nour Malas at nour.malas@wsj.com

Corrections & Amplifications
The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan isn’t blacklisted by the U.S. An earlier version of this story said
that it was.


FUTURES AND OPTIONS TRADING INVOLVE SIGNIFICANT RISK OF LOSS AND
MAY NOT BE SUITABLE FOR EVERYONE. OPTIONS, CASH AND FUTURES
MARKETS ARE SEPARATE AND DISTINCT AND DO NOT NECESSARILY
RESPOND IN THE SAME WAY TO SIMILAR MARKETS STIMULUS. A MOVEMENT
IN THE CASH MARKET WOULD NOT NECESSARILY MOVE IN TANDEM WITH THE
RELATED FUTURES & OPTIONS CONTRACT BEING OFFERED. SEASONAL
DEMAND AND CURRENT NEWS IN COMMODITIES ARE ALREADY REFLECTED
IN THE PRICE OF THE UNDERLYING FUTURES.