Iraqi security forces on Monday ended an attack by the Islamic State group in Kirkuk city, killing at least 74 jihadists in three days of clashes, the provincial governor said.
"The attack is over and life has returned to normal," Najmeddin Karim, the governor of Kirkuk province, told AFP. "The security forces have killed more than 74 Daesh (IS) terrorists and detained several others, including their leader."
Karim said the initial confessions of the ringleader confirmed reports that around 100 fighters attacked Kirkuk early Friday, some of them sleeper cells that joined up with militants infiltrating the city.
Some attackers are also believed to have fled the city on Saturday, later clashing with security forces in rural areas east of Kirkuk.
The spectacular attack led to three days of clashes that left at least 46 people dead, mostly members of the security forces, and the Kurdish-controlled city under curfew.
The brazen raid on Kirkuk, which lies in an oil-rich area around 240 kilometres (150 miles) north of Baghdad, appeared to be an attempt by IS to divert attention from Mosul.
Tens of thousands of Iraqi forces are pressing a week-old offensive on Iraq's second city, which is also the jihadists' last major stronghold in the country.[caption id="attachment_24309" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Kirkuk provincial Governor, Najm al-Din Karim (C), visits victims, who were injured in attacks carried out by IS jihadists, at a hospital in the Kurdish-controlled city of Kirkuk on October 24, 2016 AFP[/caption]
The spectacular attack in Kirkuk, of a type observers warned could happen more often as IS loses territory and reverts to a traditional insurgency, temporarily drew attention away from Mosul. But there was no sign it had any significant impact on the offensive to retake the city, Iraq's largest military operation in years.
Tens of thousands of fighters, including Iraqi federal troops and Kurdish peshmerga, are taking part in the assault. Engaged on the northern and eastern fronts, the peshmerga are expected to stop along a line at an average of 20 kilometres from the boundaries of the city proper.
"They are pretty much there," a US military official said on Saturday, adding that the lines "will be solidified in the next day or two".
The peshmerga announced they had secured eight villages near Bashiqa, an IS-held town northeast of Mosul and one of the main Kurdish targets in the offensive.
Elite federal forces were also fighting to retake control of Qaraqosh just east of Mosul. It used to be Iraq's largest Christian town.
Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, commander of the US-led coalition, said Saturday that jihadist resistance was stiff.
"It's pretty significant, we are talking about enemy indirect fire, multiple IEDs (improvised explosive devices), multiple VBIED (vehicle-borne IEDs) each day, even some anti-tank guided missiles," he said in Baghdad.
Iraqi Kurdish and federal forces rarely release casualty figures, but hospitals behind Kurdish lines were overwhelmed by the number of wounded, an AFP reporter said.
Peshmerga and Kirkuk security forces hunt down ISIS terrorists on the Kirkuk country side, killing 11 and capturing 3. pic.twitter.com/5OTAxtc1VU — Peshmerga News (@PeshmergaNews) October 22, 2016