KIRKUK • Security forces battled for a second day with Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) gunmen who infiltrated Kirkuk in a brazen raid involving suicide bombings that rattled Iraq, as it ramped up an offensive to retake Mosul.
A day after Friday's shock attack on the Kurdish-controlled city of Kirkuk, ISIS snipers and suspected suicide bombers were still at large, prompting Baghdad to send reinforcements.
The "inghimasi" attack - a term describing militant operations in which gunmen, often wearing suicide vests, intend to sow chaos and fight to the death rather than achieve any military goal - caught Kirkuk off guard.
"We have 46 dead and 133 wounded, most of them members of the security services, as a result of the clashes with Daesh (ISIS)," Brigadier-General Khattab Omar Aref said. He also said 48 attackers had been killed and several others wounded, including a Libyan believed to be among the raid's leaders.
Mr Abu Omar, a 40-year-old butcher, spent 24 hours locked up in his home with his wife, mother and three children.
"It felt as if this day lasted a year," he said. "We could hear shooting and explosions."
One attacker captured by the Kurdish security services on Friday claimed that the Kirkuk raid was planned by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as a diversion from the offensive on Mosul.
"Today's attack was one of caliph Baghdadi's plans to demonstrate that the Islamic State is remaining and expanding, and reduce the pressure on the Mosul front," he reportedly said during initial interrogation.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declined an offer from Turkey to take part in the Mosul campaign after meeting United States Defence Secretary Ash Carter, who arrived from Ankara to review the Mosul offensive.
"I know that the Turks want to participate, we tell them, 'Thank you, this is something the Iraqis will handle'," he told reporters travelling with Mr Carter in Baghdad. "If help is needed, we will ask for it from Turkey or from other regional countries."
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, which has a huge Sunni population, has warned of sectarian bloodshed if the Iraqi army relies on Shi'ite militia fighters to retake the largely Sunni city of Mosul.
The Iraqi army yesterday stormed a Christian town that had been under ISIS control since 2014 to clear the entrances to Mosul. A military statement said Iraqi army units entered the centre of Qaraqosh, about 20km south-east of Mosul, and were carrying out mop-up operations.
An Iraqi cameraman was killed by an ISIS sniper south of Mosul yesterday, a day after another TV journalist died of a sniper bullet to the chest during the Kirkuk clashes.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE