Iraqi forces launch military campaign south of Kirkuk
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – Iraqi forces and Iran-backed Hashd al-Shaabi militias launched a military campaign on Saturday to pursue members of the Islamic State (IS) near the town of Tuz Khurmatu, 78 kilometers south of Kirkuk.
The operation comes after increased IS activity in the area, including kidnappings and attacks targetting both security forces and civilians, despite last year's military defeat of the group.
In recent weeks, IS has claimed responsibility for a string of attacks where they have set up fake checkpoints to target unsuspecting victims, a tactic reminiscent of methods adopted when they first emerged in Iraq and Syria.
Recent videos released by IS are claimed to show its members executing security forces that were kidnapped on the main road between Kirkuk and Baghdad. Earlier attacks targeted three families and left scores dead.
On Saturday, an Interior Ministry official and his daughter were wounded when a bomb attached to his car exploded in central Kirkuk.
A Kurdish security source told Kurdistan 24 that the campaign was launched at dawn, with military operations aimed primarily at combing areas where incidents have recently occurred.
"The aim of the operation is to eliminate the attackers and those who work with them, and to secure Tuz [Khurmatu]," the source said. "It also aims to secure the road between Baghdad and Kirkuk."
He said the campaign was being carried out by four security forces, led by Iraqi federal police and Rapid Response units, backed by army and Hashd al-Shaabi militias.
Like Tuz Khurmatu and Kirkuk, the security situation has declined in most of the disputed territories since Iraqi forces and Hashd al-Shaabi took control of them in an October attack following the Kurdistan Region's referendum on independence.