The counter-offensive launched by the Islamic State (Isis) in and around Kirkuk in northern Iraq in the wee hours of Saturday, 22 October, finally ended following heavy clashes between Iraqi forces and the militants over the past 24 hours. The attacks launched by IS (Daesh) fighters on the city were said to have been aimed at diverting the attention of government troops advancing towards Mosul, an IS stronghold since 2014.

Brig Gen Khattab Omer of the Kirkuk police told the Associated Press that all the attackers were either killed by their troops or blew themselves up. However, he could not give the exact number of militants who launched the attack.

A report by Agence France Presse, citing the police chief of Kirkuk, said Iraqi forces have killed nearly 48 IS militants in the city.

On Friday morning, a militant attack on Kirkuk resulted in the deaths of at least 16 civilians. Gunmen wearing suicide vests attacked government and security buildings in the city. They also killed 13 workers, including four Iranians, at a power plant north of Kirkuk. A local journalist was also reported to have been killed by a sniper in the city.

While militants failed to halt or delay the Iraqi army's advance towards Mosul, troops from the 9th Division of the army launched a new push to recapture the town of Hamdaniyah, located around 20km to the southeast of Mosul, from the IS. The troops were reportedly heading towards the town, also known as Bakhdida and Qaraqosh, the Joint Military Operation Command reportedly said.

Two army officers told the news agency, on the condition of anonymity, that Iraqi forces were advancing on Hamdaniyah from both the north and south. The troops are being assisted by US-led coalition air strikes, they added.

Since the launch of the major offensive to retake control over Mosul — the second largest city in Iraq, Iraqi forces have succeeded in regaining control over the town of Bartella, located around 15km east of Mosul, but are reported to be still facing some resistance in the area.

Hamdaniyah is reportedly a largely uninhabited town, but the IS has rigged most of the roads towards Mosul with explosives and land mines, making it difficult for the troops to advance.

Kirkuk attack by Isis
Heavy clashes between Iraqi forces (in picture) and Isis fighters, who launched a counter-offensive in the wee hours of Saturday, 22 October, ended following a 24-hour-long battle Reuters