File photo of Peshmerga forces positioned in south Kirkuk during clashes with ISIS militants.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region - Kurdish Peshmerga forces defeated an ISIS attack in Tuz Khurmatu south of Kirkuk at dawn on Thursday, another in a string of recent assaults in the area.
A Rudaw reporter from Kirkuk was told by Peshmerga commanders that ISIS launched a three-pronged assault on the Peshmerga frontlines in Zarga village early on Thursday.
He added the confrontation lasted an hour and a half and left a number of ISIS attackers dead with the bodies of two of them in the custody of Kurdish forces. Peshmerga said they defeated the attack.
Last week, ISIS launched another assault on the Peshmerga positions in Tuz Khurmatu, but after a fierce defense, the attack was rebuffed, confirmed Abdulla Bor, the front’s commander.
Tuz Khurmatu is 88 kilometers south of Kirkuk and home to Kurds, Turkmen and Arabs. It is one of the disputed areas claimed by both Erbil and Baghdad.
In recent few months, ISIS has been carrying out hit-and-run operations against the Peshmerga in the regions south and west of Kirkuk, particularly in Tuz Khurmatu, Daquq and Hawija.
There are 20 kilometers between the Peshmerga and the Iraqi army frontlines, which ISIS takes advantage of to move its militants from Hawija to Diyala province and Tikrit areas via the Hamrin mountain range.
Most of the ISIS movements near Tuz Khurmatu come from nearby Zarga village. According to regional officials, over the past three months, hundreds of ISIS militants have used the area to cross into Hawija.
According to Peshmerga officials, ISIS’ main objective behind these attacks is to distract the Peshmerga so that it can move militants from now-liberated Tal Afar and Mosul into Hamrin.
An Iraqi TV station reported on Tuesday that ISIS leaders have fled south from Hawija in large numbers, citing an unnamed source.
Kurdish officials have repeatedly warned the US-led international coalition of the threat ISIS poses due to a much delayed operation in Hawija. The Coalition has said the decision is ultimately in the hands of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
In his weekly press conference, Abadi on Wednesday night laid the blame on the Kurdish leadership for delaying the Hawija operation saying plans had existed to launch the Hawija operation before Mosul, but it was difficult to deal with multiple forces operating in Kirkuk, blaming dis-unity among the Kurdish forces.
Abadi said it was initially decided to launch the Hawija operation before Mosul and there was coordination with the Peshmerga, but there were problems in the coordination.
He blamed “some parties in Kirkuk,” while speaking of its governor, forces associated with Sulaimani, and forces associated with Erbil.
Abadi said coordination had to be done with all of them so it needed a lot of time.
Three Peshmerga officers told Rudaw last week that they were prepared and waiting for Hawija’s “zero hour.”
“We have been here for more than two years and are familiar with the area. Their number is clear to us [number of ISIS militants across from them],” Capt. Mohammed Mala Jihad, had said.
“We are prepared and are waiting for the order of the president of the Kurdistan Region. Our forces are sufficient. We therefore don’t need other forces.”