A steet in Kirkuk after the ISIS attack that killed dozens of Peshmerga soldiers late last month. AP photo.
by Sirwan Abbas
KIRKUK, Kurdistan Region – Sustained US-led airstrikes pounded ISIS strongholds in and around the town of Hawija east of Kirkuk early Monday, as coalition forces ready for an expected assault on the strategic oil-rich city.
“It was a response to the ISIS reinforcement in Hawija,” Kirkuk police chief Sarhad Qadir said about the air raids.
He told Rudaw that the militants had deployed forces from the neighboring towns of Salahaddin and Beji to Hawija, from where they launched “calculated attacks” on Kirkuk, about 30 minutes away.
“Our intelligence services provided the coalition with detailed information about ISIS hideouts in the town, which made it easier for them to strike,” Qadir said.
Hawija, with a mixed Kurdish-Arab population, has been under ISIS control since June last year. Earlier last week, Kurdish military sources said the recent attacks on Kirkuk, in which dozens of Peshmerga forces were killed, were launched from the city using mid-sized missiles.
The Kurdish Asayish policing forces are in charge of security in the ethnically-mixed city of Kirkuk and have so far declined the deployment of Iraqi forces to the area, fearing it would trigger renewed sectarian violence in the province.
Kurdish President Massoud Barzani said last week that Peshmerga forces are capable of holding back the jihadist militants.
“Kirkuk will not fall to the Daesh, it is secure,” Barzani was quoted as saying in an interview with the London based Al-Hayat daily published on Friday.