Islamic State launched a major counter-attack on the city of Kirkuk on Friday as Iraqi and Kurdish forces pursued operations to seize territory around Mosul in preparation for an offensive on the jihadists’ last major stronghold in Iraq. Islamic State’s assault on Kirkuk, which lies in an oil- producing region, killed six members of the security forces and two Iranians who were part of a team carrying out maintenance at a power station outside the city, a hospital source said.
Crude oil production facilities were not targeted and the power supply continued uninterrupted in the city. Kirkuk is located east of Hawija, a pocket still under control of Islamic State that lies between Baghdad and Mosul.
With air and ground support from the U.S.-led coalition, Iraqi government forces captured eight villages south and southeast of Mosul. Kurdish forces attacking from the north and the east also captured several villages, according to statements from their respective military commands overnight.
The offensive that started on Monday to capture Mosul is expected to become the biggest battle fought in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. The United Nations said Mosul could require the biggest humanitarian relief operation in the world, with worst-case scenario forecasts of up to a million people being uprooted.
About 1.5 million residents are still believed to be inside Mosul, and Islamic State has a history of using civilians as human shields. The fighting has forced 5,640 people to flee their homes so far from the vicinity of the city, the International Organization for Migration said late on Thursday. A U.S. service member died on Thursday from wounds sustained in an improvised explosive device blast near Mosul.
Roughly 5,000 U.S. forces are in Iraq. More than 100 of them are embedded with Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces, advising commanders and helping them ensure coalition air power hits the right targets, officials say.