Contradiction prevails in official announcements regarding the course of the battles against the Islamic State (IS) and the group’s movements on the ground. When Iraqis were expecting a Mosul liberation battle, IS rushed to send additional fighters to Anbar, Salahuddin and Kirkuk in a bid to open new fronts, with the aim of putting Iraqi forces on the defensive.
Between Jan. 30 and Feb. 18, IS opened several fronts that were both different and distant. IS attacked Kirkuk on Jan. 30 and reached sensitive areas in the city, including the Khabbaz oil field, before it was forced to withdraw after additional peshmerga troops arrived from Mosul.
The IS attack on Kirkuk came only a day after a Jan. 29 IS attack on the peshmerga strongholds in Tal Afar and Sinjar, northwest of Mosul. As IS distracted the peshmerga by opening different fronts on the western, eastern and northern borders of Mosul, it also opened new fronts in Anbar and Salahuddin, south of Mosul.
On Feb. 12, IS attacked Anbar’s al-Baghdadi region, which is home to Ain al-Assad, an important military base where dozens of US advisers and trainers are stationed.
As the peshmerga moved toward Kirkuk, IS launched an attack Feb. 17 on the Makhmour area, west of Erbil — the closest military point of contact with the Iraqi Kurdistan Region.
On Feb. 13, IS attacked areas north of Samarra and occupied the town of Mukashafah, south of Tikrit, before withdrawing from it days later.
Although the organization managed to occupy al-Baghdadi for two days and executed many residents, it was unable to break into the fortified Ain al-Assad base. This front only began to calm down Feb. 22, when the Iraqi army and police forces managed — after the arrival of supplies from Baghdad — to open a safe passage to a residential complex, which IS then besieged for 10 days.