Friday, October 21, 2016

ISIS launches a major attack on the Kurdish city of Kirkuk in Iraq.

Peshmerga forces take cover behind rocks during the attack. Reuters. 

ISIS has launched a major attack on the city of Kirkuk as a counter-move to the Mosul offensive. Reuters. At least 18 local security forces, including two Iranians died in the assault, which took place in a part of Iraq under Kurdish control. The attackers included several dozen fighters and they attacked police stations and power buildings. Most of the ISIS fighters withdrew, but a small group is still holed up in a local mosque. 8 ISIS fighters died in the attack, either from the gun battles or from blowing themselves up in suicide attacks. The attack is largely seen as a distraction from the battle of Mosul, which has bogged down before reaching the city. 

My Comment:
Very interesting. It seems like ISIS is still capable of launching offensive operations fairly deep into enemy territory. Kirkuk is pretty far away from the front lines, so it is impressive that ISIS was able to strike there. Kirkuk has been largely spared ISIS attacks, compared to other cities, so I wonder how prepared the Peshmerga troops assigned to the city really were. They seem to have done ok in this battle, but the fact that ISIS was able to get to the city at all does not bode well. 

I think that this is a rather large victory for ISIS, at a time when they are desperate for a win. Sure, they weren't able to take and hold Kirkuk, but I doubt that was ever their plan. This was a raid, pure and simple, and I think they accomplished their major goals. 

First, they needed to demonstrate that they were still capable of mounting attacks on this scale. ISIS is on the defensive in both Iraq and Syria (and Libya as well) and it has been a long time since they have actually gained any ground. The perception is that they are on the back foot and this attack might shake up that perception. Though ISIS is undoubtedly losing, this attack shows that they aren't anywhere near being defeated yet. 

Second, this attack will serve as a major distraction from the battle of Mosul. If ISIS were to lose Mosul, it would essentially cost them the war in Iraq. By attacking Kirkuk, they are forcing the Iraqis and Kurds to respond. In the Reuters report, the Peshmerga fighters were quoted as being desperate for reinforcements. With Iraqi and Kurdish forces stretched thin, the only place they can really pull troops out of is from the Mosul front. This may serve to blunt the attack against ISIS, which has already failed to reach Mosul itself. 

Finally, they managed to inflict more casualties then they suffered. Though ISIS can ill afford the 8 fighters they lost (at least) they did kill more people then they lost. Counting bodies is a fools errand, but it seems that they did more damage here than they suffered. 

If I were an ISIS commander I would continue to launch these raids against Iraqi and Kurdish targets far away from the Mosul battle, for all the reasons I just discussed and more. I don't know if I would attack Kirkuk again so soon, but there are other targets in the area they could hit. Places like Tikrit, Baiji and Haditha could be other good targets as well. Not only are these cities relatively close to the front lines, attacking them would force the Iraqi's to move their forces around as well. Kirkuk is almost exclusively guarded by the Kurdish Peshmerga, so they are the ones that will have to pull back troops. It would be good for ISIS to force the Iraqis to back down as well. 

Still, the main show is going to be Mosul for the time being. I haven't been following the battle as closely as I should. Due to election coverage, I haven't been paying close enough attention. I do know that the battle of Mosul is kind of a misnomer right now because the Iraqi and Kurdish forces haven't reached the outskirts of the city yet. Right now they are focusing in on reclaiming the surrounding towns. 

Will Mosul fall? Probably. These distraction raids, if they continue, will probably help ISIS, but I can't see them winning the battle outright. The Iraqis and Peshmerga forces are vast and ISIS is outnumbered. Though ISIS is in a defensive position their enemies have enough bodies to overwhelm their defenses. Plus they have massive US air support, along with special forces on the ground. That will help them greatly. 

Still, the Iraqi military has broken before. If morale gets too bad, it's possible the Iraqis could break. They have always been rather skittish and I don't know if I trust them to withstand counter attacks. Remember, if the Iraqi military could fight, Mosul never would have fallen in the first place. The Iraqi Army has been largely destroyed and rebuilt since then, but the problems remain. 

I am predicting that we will probably have a new president here in the United States before the battle of Mosul is resolved. It's going to be brutal, urban fighting and a lot of people are going to die and be displaced. I honestly think it is going to end up like the battle for Aleppo in Syria. Unless you are Gary Johnson, you know how brutal that will be... 

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