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IS gunmen conduct coordinated attacks against various targets in suburbs of Kirkuk and Hawija

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On the evening of 2 November, multiple groups of IS militants armed with various weapons launched a set of apparently coordinated attacks against various targets in rural areas west of Kirkuk City and north of Hawija.

At around 20:30 on 2 November, six suspected IS members wearing Federal Police uniforms, and armed with M-4 carbines, abducted two Kurdish individuals from Taq Taq Village in Dibis District, west of Kirkuk City.  The abductees were identified as Fahmi Saleh Mustafa and off-duty Peshmerga member Sarhan Mohammed Saleh.  Limited reporting indicated the individuals were abducted after their vehicle was interdicted.  An IED subsequently detonated against responding Hashd al-Ashairi forces, with one member wounded.    On the morning of 3 November, the body of Fahmi Saleh was recovered near Kunah Riwi Village.  A similar fate is expected for the second abductee.

At around 21:30 on 2 November, at least four IS members wearing Federal Police uniforms broke into the home of the Mahmudiya Village Mukhtar, located northeast of Hawija Town.  The mukhtar, Abdullah Wasmi Hussein Mohammed al-Dakhi, was subsequently shot and killed.  Another civilian was wounded before the gunmen fled.  Limited reporting claimed a Federal Police member was killed due to small arms fire from an unclear origin in nearby Hamduniyah Village on this date.

Additional activity was reported in other areas.  At 22:00 on 2 November, IS elements using light and medium weapons attacked a position manned by police personnel on the Hawija Bypass Road. The attack was repelled, with no casualties reported.  On the early morning hours of 3 November, insurgents armed with light weapons attacked an ISF position at Nakkar Village, located along the northern fringes of Hawija District.  An unspecified number of casualties were reported.

IS statements claimed responsibility for abducting and executing a Peshmerga member during a raid against his residence in Taq Taq Village, and also claimed responsibility for an IED attack against a PMF vehicle at the village.  Another statement claimed responsibility for the assassination of the Mahmudiya Village Mukhtar.  Additional claims pertained to the attacks against security personnel near Hawija.

IS promotes attacks in vulnerable rural areas in aftermath of Arba’een:
The 2 November coordinated attacks prominently illustrated elevated IS attack intent that was expected to remain in effect in the aftermath of Arba’een.  It is also certainly possible that the timing of these attacks was partially influenced by significant airstrikes supporting a security operation along the mountains south of Makhmour between 31 October and 1 November, which reportedly killed as many as 19 insurgents.

From an alternative perspective, the capability to launch these coordinated attacks also underscores the questionable nature of often inflated reporting pertaining to claimed major IS losses, and the resilient nature of the organization.  That said, it is also important to note that tangible positive measures of performance have been seen in other sectors. The 2 November events contrasted with recent headlining attacks in the province that were characterized by a series of vehicle borne IED attacks in Kirkuk City, with no new activity seen following an attack on 13 October.  In conjunction with the moderate casualty levels, international media attention for the 2 November attacks was limited.

Through the 2 November events, IS demonstrated the capability to conduct near-simultaneous attacks affecting at least four separate areas in one night.  This includes at least two teams of skilled gunmen posing as Federal Police personnel in accordance with established deceptive practices.  Both of the primary attacks illustrated commonly seen murder and intimidation operations intended to degrade support for security forces and improve IS freedom of movement.  Multiple complementary attacks and supporting IED activity understandably played a role in frustrating security responses.

Markedly less active than the Hawija District, abductions are infrequently reported in the Dibis District. The tempo of direct fire activity is also moderate, with just one low-level incident reported in the district in October in a significant reduction from five incidents in September.  More common activity involves roadside IED attacks affecting security personnel and government employees, with at least six IED attacks conducted in Dibis District in October.  Although IS rarely conducts attacks directly targeting oil infrastructure, all forms of activity in key suburbs west of Kirkuk are important to monitor to maintain awareness of assessed threat levels influential to the oil and gas industry.

Further south, the attack resulting in the assassination of the Mahmudiya Village Mukhtar was significant in multiple regards.  The raid closely followed attacks against power infrastructure affecting at least two power transmission towers in and around Mahmudiya Village the day beforehand.  While initially routine, it is likely that IS conducted the attacks with the goal of skillfully exploiting associated power outages.  The 2 November assassination forms the latest in an uptick in attacks against mukhtars in Hawija District.  This includes a failed attack on 27 October against the mukhtar of Khatuniyah Village, located roughly 6km southeast of the latest incident, as well as the 29 October assassination of a mukhtar in Dawdiya Village, located south of Hawija Town.

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