IRBIL, Iraq — Islamic State gunmen attacked government buildings in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk and a nearby power plant on Friday, briefly controlling the main police station in their first significant counterattack since Iraqi forces launched an offensive for Mosul.

The Iraqi military said the situation was now “under control” and that three police stations and a political party headquarters had been attacked inside the city. It is unclear how many were killed in Kirkuk but at least 11 died in the attack on the power plant in the nearby village of Dibbis.

Lt. Col. Abdullah Majid from the Kurdish security forces known as Asayish said the attack started at 3 a.m. and now the remaining militants in Kirkuk city were surrounded in a hotel in the city center.

The assault on oil-rich Kirkuk comes just days after Iraqi and Kurdish forces launched a large scale offensive to retake the northern city of Mosul, the biggest city controlled by the Islamic State group and about 100 miles to the northwest.

Army commanders and officials speculate that the attack is an attempt to relieve pressure on Mosul’s defenders as Iraqi forces reach the outskirts of the city.

“It’s a desperate attempt to move the front to Kirkuk and give their people who are besieged in Mosul a chance to escape,” said local lawmaker Ammar Kahiya. “The militants attacked the provincial council building but did not manage to control it. They managed to enter the police station but had lost it by mid-morning.”

Militants also attacked the village of Qutan where they took over a school and made a speech in the local mosque.

“A man from Daesh gave a speech and ordered the people to blow themselves up against the security forces,” said Kahiya, using the Arabic acronym for the group.

Hassan Touran, another lawmaker from Kirkuk, said that the attack was launched by Islamic State “sleeper cells.”

In the attack on an electricity station and a gas station in Dibbis, the militants targeted Iranian workers at the plant.

The Electricity Ministry said 11 workers were killed in total, including three Iranians.

The attackers then detonated their explosive vests when police showed up.

Col. Soud Kalobazyani of the peshmerga said the militants had also entered the village of Qaratappa, and were currently holed up in two houses.

The attack comes a day after Iraqi and Kurdish forces, known as peshmerga, opened new fronts against the militants in Mosul, with Iraq’s elite counterterrorism forces joining the fight for the first time.

Security forces made some advances but were met with tough resistance. In Bartella, around six miles east of the outskirts of Mosul, the militants dispatched a barrage of 15 car bombs against the elite Iraqi forces.

In the newly opened northern front, Kurdish forces said that “a number” of peshmerga “paid the ultimate sacrifice” during their offensive, adding that air support from the coalition had not been “as decisive as in the past.”


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