ISIS militants have attacked Kirkuk in northern Iraq, an effort that might be an earnest attempt to capture the key oil-rich city or perhaps to divert Kurdish troops fighting to capture the Islamist extremist group’s stronghold of Mosul. For months, ISIS has been facing off with the Peshmerga (armed fighters who protect Iraqi Kurdistan) to the west of Kirkuk. It had gone into areas on Kirkuk’s outskirts, but not the central city. Heavily armed militants attacked an abandoned hotel in central Kirkuk that local police had used as their headquarters.
Peshmerga and Kurdish anti-terror units later raided the hotel, wresting control of it from the militants and killing three of them, according to Peshmerga sources. In addition, two suicide bombers detonated themselves in an attempt to keep the Kurdish forces out. Also Friday, ISIS militants took over Maktab Khalid, an area about 12 miles southwest of Kirkuk, after heavy clashes with the Peshmerga.Among those killed was Brig. Gen. Shirko Fateh, the highest-ranking operational commander of the Peshmerga brigade located in Kirkuk. Photos posted by ISIS purportedly show the group’s militants in control of parts of south and southwest Kirkuk, burning tents that had been used by Peshmerga troops.