On the evening of 5 October, IS conducted coordinated attacks affecting several historically active rural environments of Kirkuk and Diyala provinces. Casualties for the 5 October attacks totaled at least 4-5 ISF killed, 2-3 ISF wounded, and 3-7 civilians wounded. Casualty reporting was unavailable for some incidents, with additional casualties possible.
The deadliest attack was conducted in an area west of Kirkuk city. IS fighters using mortar fire and light weapons conducted a complex attack against an outpost manned by 2nd Battalion, 12th Brigade, 3rd Federal Police Division, in the vicinity of Nakar village, northern Hawija district. According to a local Federal Police commander, this incident involved a three-pronged attack lasting for more than one hour. The Security Media Cell reported that four Federal Police members were killed, and three others were wounded including an officer. Other security sources cited five ISF fatalities including a major, indicating one of the wounded individuals succumbed to his wounds. Social media sources reported three insurgents were killed, but confirmation from credible sources was absent.
IS claimed responsibility for an attack involving light weapons including hand grenades, indicating a close-quarters attack. However, the bulk of reporting was indicative of a stand-off style attack. IS did not embellish casualties, citing five Federal Police killed and two wounded. Reports from PMF and social media sources cited three additional attacks against PMF locations in suburbs of Kirkuk and Hawija on the evening of 5 October, including some reports citing heavy clashes. No casualties were reported, but additional casualties were certainly possible.
Additional significant incidents on the evening of 5 October involved a pair of mortar attacks in areas of the restive Khanaqin district, northeastern Diyala province. IS militants fired eight mortar rounds impacting in the vicinity of Maadan village, located west of Khanaqin town. The apparent target was the headquarters of the 110th PMF Brigade, a Faili Kurdish unit. No casualties were reported. IS militants also fired 5-6 mortar rounds impacting in a market area in Islah village, located north of Jalawla town. Conflicting reports cited 3-7 civilians wounded including children. An Iraqi Army unit responded with mortar fire and medium weapons fire targeting suspected IS locations. No casualties were reported.
Security responses included an uptick in CF airstrikes in southern Kirkuk province, and along the Makhoul Mountains in northern Salah ad Din province. On the night of 5 October, according to social media sources, CF aircraft conducted an airstrike against a group of insurgents infiltrating from the Makhoul Mountains towards Highway 1 near Shaykh Ali village, located north of Baiji city. Some sources described the IS movement as an imminent attack, while more plausible reports indicate the insurgents were retrieving food supplies and other supplies from supporters. As a result, 10-11 insurgents were allegedly killed. Official security sources did not confirm the casualties, indicating the mentioned casualties were highly inflated in order to overshadow the above setbacks.
Deadliest attack against security forces in Kirkuk province thus far this year:
The 5 October coordinated attacks were timed to mark the final lead-up to Arba’een between 7-8 October. It is noteworthy that officials in Diyala announced the successful conclusion of pilgrimage movements in the province on 5 October. Security measures were likely relaxed somewhat in both affected provinces in order to allow security forces to refit during the lull between outgoing and returning movements. Due to persistent shortfalls in the capability to conduct mass casualty attacks against Shia civilians, particularly in major urban environments, IS cells commonly play to their strengths during key religious periods by intensifying attacks against security forces. The mortar attacks in northeastern Diyala province on 5 October likewise represented common stand-off style approaches to circumvent security measures in order to threaten minor population centers.
The 5 October attacks shared similarities with the 24 August coordinated attacks, which involved at least nine attacks in Kirkuk and Diyala provinces at the onset of the Muharram holy month. The centerpiece of those attacks was likewise an attack that killed at least four Federal Police members at an outpost in Kirkuk province. Attacks against ISF resulting in 2-3 fatalities are certainly not uncommon in Kirkuk province. With as many as five ISF fatalities, the 5 October attack against the Federal Police outpost represents the deadliest attack in the province thus far in 2020. On a national basis, this was the deadliest attack against security forces since an attack that killed six PMF members near a shrine in southern Salah ad Din province on 19 August.
Well-planned attacks along these lines will undoubtedly continue to be seen on an intermittent basis, with effectiveness varying. Direct fire and indirect fire attacks are concentrated during hours of darkness or other periods of limited visibility as opposed to typical working hours. Considerations for client operations include significant security responses and resulting transit alterations. Other considerations for local movement operations involve the common IS practice of emplacing IEDs in conjunction with attacks, and the potential for inadvertent exposure to uncleared devices.