ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – Islamic State (IS) militants set fire to three oil wells near Hawija to slow the advance of US-backed Iraqi forces, military officials said on Monday.
Iraqi security forces were using bulldozers to control the fires started by the extremist group early Saturday to obstruct the advance of Iraqi and Shia forces toward Hawija, according to military officials.
The Allas oilfield, located 35 kilometers (20 miles) south of Hawija, was once the central source of revenue for IS when the group emerged in 2014.
“Terrorists are trying to use the rising smoke to avert air strikes while retreating from the area toward Hawija,” army Colonel Mohammed al-Jabouri told the Voice of America.
Military officials managed to control the fire at one of the wells but said the other two were still burning and it would take about three days to put them out.
Oil officials working at the wells said it was too dangerous to send their staff to assess the damage as the militant group may have booby-trapped the area.
US-backed Iraqi forces launched the Hawija operation, a city located in the oil-rich Kirkuk Province, was launched on Sep. 21.
Meanwhile, as the offensive gets underway, thousands of Iraqis have been fleeing IS-controlled areas in the city to the safety of the Kurdistan Region.
Kemal Kirkuki, the commander of the Peshmerga in the area west of Kirkuk, said about 3,500 Iraqi civilians had crossed the Kurdish forces’ front lines on Friday and Saturday.
Kurdish officials have provided camps in Kirkuk for refugees and displaced persons escaping the threat of IS.
The acceptance of refugees highlights the ongoing cooperation between Peshmerga and Iraqi forces amid increasing tensions between Erbil and Baghdad following the Kurds’ momentous independence referendum.
Editing by Ava Homa