Is Islamic State back in Kirkuk?

By Mahmut Bozarslan for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

In the last week of December, an armed group ambushed a convoy on the Kirkuk-Hawija road in Iraq, killing seven people. Iraqi security forces couldn’t track the attackers. The identities of those killed were determined quickly: They were Col. Fazil Sebawi of the Iraqi police, his son and five bodyguards.

Shortly afterward, reports of another attack came from south of Kirkuk. Walid Nuri, the leader of the Jiheshad tribe and commander of Hashd al-Ashayer forces southwest of Kirkuk, his wife and son were killed.

Nobody could explain the attacks. After ousting Kurdish forces from Kirkuk, the Iraqi army and Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) had imposed total control over the area and ensured its security. However, the Islamic State (IS) soon claimed responsibility for both attacks.

After seizing Mosul in 2014, IS had turned toward Kirkuk but was repelled by Kurdish forces controlling the town. Yet, possibly because of the region's oil wealth, IS never gave up on Kirkuk. Although the extremist group couldn't control the city center, its influence over the province's southern regions never waned.

Although IS was not active after it left Kirkuk, it resurfaced after the Iraqi army took control of the region. Iraqi forces went after the IS militants, killing 10 of them in two attacks. Six militants were killed, three in Sadiye and three in Beshir villages. Military commander of Kirkuk army operations announced the six killed were the attackers who had staged the two attacks.

But how did IS resurface even after the region came under the total control of the Iraqi army and the PMU? Security sources in the region, who asked not to be identified, said IS has resumed operations south of Kirkuk. They said sleeper cells of the group have been reactivated and are preparing for new operations.

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