Iraqi Kurdish security forces deploy in Kirkuk, after jihadist gunmen attacked the city, on October 21, 2016
Iraqi Kurdish security forces deploy in Kirkuk, after jihadist gunmen attacked the city, on October 21, 2016 © Marwan Ibrahim - AFP
Iraqi Kurdish security forces deploy in Kirkuk, after jihadist gunmen attacked the city, on October 21, 2016
Marwan Ibrahim, AFP
Last updated: January 1, 1970

Chaos as Iraq's Kirkuk wakes up to jihadist raid

The day was about to break when Haidar Abdelhussein, a 35-year-old teacher, heard shooting and looked out the door to see heavily armed jihadist fighters on his street.

Within a few minutes on Friday morning, Iraq's city of Kirkuk, which the Islamic State jihadist had never occupied, was turned into a war zone.

The small group of fighters entered Al-Mohammadi mosque, in the Tesaeen neighbourhood where Abdelhussein lives, and used the loudspeakers.

They blared the rallying cries of IS jihadists: "Allahu Akbar" (God is greatest) and "Dawla al-Islam baqiya" (the Islamic State remains).

From his roof, an AFP correspondent in a southern neighbourhood saw nine jihadist fighters with headscarves wrapped around their heads walking down the street, carrying rifles and grenades.

Early on Friday, in a well-coordinated assault, at least five suicide bombers targeted several government buildings across Kirkuk, a large city that lies around 240 kilometres (150 miles) north of Baghdad and is under Kurdish control.

According to security sources, at least one of the attackers was shot dead before he could detonate his suicide vest and others blew themselves up when they were surrounded.

Among the primary targets were the main police headquarters in central Kirkuk, checkpoints and patrols.

Clashes ensued and, while they apparently came with no vehicles or heavy equipment and therefore have little hope of fully taking over the city, the IS attack was one of the most spectacular of its kind recently in Iraq.

- Residents trying to flee -

The modus operandi is known as "inghimasi", which describes operations carried out by gunmen who wear explosive vests or belts and intend to make a suicidal last stand.

A curfew was slapped on the entire city as members of the Kurdish security forces who control Kirkuk and other men took to the roofs with assault rifles.

Local television channels showed live footage of clusters of fighters crouching behind walls as they attempted to dislodge the jihadists from their hideouts.

Gunfire and explosions continued to echo across the large city 12 hours after the attack began, although the clashes were more sporadic by midday than in the early morning.

"The streets are empty. There's no people, no traffic. We're all confused and scared. We are trying to escape," said Itar Khalil, a young woman who studies at the University of Kirkuk.

"My friend's father took us and we are trying to leave to Arbil," she told AFP by phone, in reference to the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq.

Security officers said at least 12 IS fighters were killed and other reports suggested much larger numbers of IS members were involved in the attack.

Six members of the Kirkuk police were also confirmed to have been killed in the ongoing clashes.

"Some of their corpses are still on the street. It's too dangerous to retrieve them because of the snipers," a police colonel told AFP.

According to security sources, a significant number of IS fighters were holed up in the aptly named Jihad hotel, in the centre of the city.

Another small group of fighters, apparently determined to make the longest possible stand, were hunkering down in a house in the southern Domiz neighbourhood.

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