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Isis attacks Kirkuk as concerns mount over fate of civilians in Mosul

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Islamic State militants have launched a commando raid on the Iraqi city of Kirkuk in an apparent attempt to distract Iraqi and Kurdish forces converging on the group’s stronghold of Mosul.

mosul.jpg

The attack was repelled by local security forces, who said six of the militants had been killed in the operation.

Isis claimed responsibility for the assault on its news agency service, Aamaq.

“Security forces, the peshmerga and the counter-terrorism forces have established complete control over the security situation in Kirkuk,” Najmeddine Karim, the city’s governor, said. “Daesh [Isis] sleeper cells carried out attacks against security sites and headquarters this morning in Kirkuk.”

Kirkuk, 146 miles (236km) north of Baghdad, is an oil-rich town that has emerged as a potential source of tension in a post-Isis Iraq.

In another attack reported by AFP on Friday, three bombers infiltrated a power plant being built by an Iranian company near Dibis, a town about 25 miles north-west of Kirkuk.

“Three suicide bombers attacked the power plant at around 6am, killing 12 Iraqi administrators and engineers and four Iranian technicians,” Dibis mayor Abdullah Nureddin al-Salehi told AFP.

Iraqi forces, alongside Sunni tribal fighters, Kurdish peshmerga paramilitaries and Shia militias, this weeklaunched a long-awaited campaign to wrest back control of Mosul, the largest urban centre under Isis control. The arrayed forces have made steady advances in clearing militants from surrounding towns and villages, before what is likely to be a protracted street battle to reclaim the embattled city from up to 6,000 Isis fighters.

Friday’s Isis attacks appeared to be aimed at distracting some of the forces arrayed for the assault on Mosul. Kirkuk is a town with a mixed Shia, Sunni and Kurdish population, and there are fears that once Isis is defeated the vacuum could become a flashpoint for power and territory struggles over its oilfields.

The Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, announced the launch of the Mosul operation last weekend. He has since said that the offensive was going faster than planned.

But as Iraqi forces and allied militias advanced, concerns mounted over the fate of hundreds of thousands of civilians still trapped in and outside Mosul.

The UN human rights office said it was investigating multiple reports of abuses against civilians by Isis, including the killing of 40 civilians in a village near Mosul, and another incident in which 550 families were said to have been moved by the terror group from the surrounding villages into the city to prevent them from escaping.

Allegations have mounted in recent days of Isis using civilians as human shields as airstrikes and ground force advances continued. The UN believes as many as 200,000 civilians could attempt to flee the approaching offensive on the city.

Meanwhile, Turkish aid officials said they believed as many as 400,000 people could be displaced, contributing to a “large migration wave”.

Turkey borders northern Iraq and has already taken in thousands of Iraqi refugees and more than 2 million Syrians. The Turkish Red Crescent said it had sent a convoy of 20 trucks carrying humanitarian supplies from Ankara to the villages around Mosul.

“In the first stage, we are sending this aid to the nearly 30 villages around Mosul that have been liberated. There are 3,000 to 4,000 people on the move from those villages, the trucks aim to reach them,” Kerem Kinik, the head of the Turkish Red Crescent, told Reuters.

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