Iraqi prime minister blames security failures for ISIS attacks

Mustafa Al Kadhimi orders increased intelligence gathering and pre-emptive operations against militant sleeper cells

Mourners attend the funeral of a policeman who was killed in an attack in Kirkuk, Iraq, on September 5, 2021. Reuters
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Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi held the security services responsible for failing to prevent attacks by ISIS militants that killed at least 16 policemen and soldiers in northern Iraq on Sunday.

Chairing an emergency meeting of the National Security Council after the attacks, Mr Al Kadhimi said that despite the “weakness of the enemy, mismanagement and shortcomings of military leaders sometimes lead to security breaches”, according to a statement released by his office.

He blamed a lack of co-ordination among security agencies and ordered them to improve their intelligence gathering, the statement said.

He also ordered the formation of a committee to look into security breaches and find ways to to prevent them.

At least 13 policemen were killed and five wounded when militants attacked a Federal Police outpost in the Al Rashad area south-west of Kirkuk city, medical and security officials said.

The Federal Police said the policemen fought off the militants for about two hours.

Members of the force shared a video on social media showing the bodies of colleagues lying on the ground, with some beheaded. They said the policemen ran out of ammunition, and blamed the Joint Military Operations Command for ignoring calls for reinforcements.

The other attack, at a military checkpoint in Makhmour, south-east of Mosul, killed three soldiers and wounded at least one, a police officer said.

Oil-rich Kirkuk is home to a mix of Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and Christians. The ethnically-mixed province, long claimed by both the Arab-led central government and the autonomous Kurdish region, is considered a tinderbox.

The prime minister's office said Mr Al Kadhimi accused some parties of “creating sedition [in Kirkuk] especially as we are approaching a decisive election”, without naming them.

Iraq is preparing to hold a general election on October 10.

Mr Al Kadhimi, who is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, ordered “pre-emptive operations to prevent [ISIS] sleeper cells from regrouping and repeating the same security breaches”, the statement added.

The extremist group held much of northern and western Irag from mid-2014 until government forces supported by a US-led global anti-ISIS coalition and Iraqi militias regained the territory in late 2017.

However, ISIS sleeper cells still carry out sporadic attacks in remote areas and the capital, Baghdad.

In January, two suicide bombers killed at least 32 people and wounded 110 in a busy commercial area near Baghdad's Tayaran Square.

Six months later, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowded outdoor market in Baghdad's eastern district of Sadr City, killing at least 30 and wounding dozens of others.

The latest attacks raise questions about the ability of Iraqi forces to maintain security during elections next month and after the planned withdrawal of US troops from Iraq by the end of this year.

The US has 2,500 troops among the 3,500 members of the international anti-ISIS coalition in Iraq, down from about 5,000 a year ago.

Also on Sunday, a roadside bomb killed a senior leader of the Kataib Hezbollah militia, Hassan Karim, in the Jurf Al Sakhar area south of Baghdad. Two guards in his convoy were injured, according to the Popular Mobilisation Forces, the grouping of government-sanctioned militias that fought against ISIS. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

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Updated: September 06, 2021, 10:38 AM