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IS militants kill at least five security personnel during coordinated attacks in north-central Iraq

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Three insurgents killed during operation in southern Kirkuk province:
On the evening of 28 February, Falcons Intelligence Cell and other ISF units, supported by CF aircraft, conducted an operation against an IS hideout in the Wadi Zaghaytun area of southern Kirkuk province. An airstrike in the Karhat Abu Khanajir area reportedly killed three IS members and destroyed two staging areas. Amongst the fatalities was an IS IED specialist active in the province identified as Sa’ad Salbi Hamid Mukhlif al-Ubaid, also known as Abu Mu’ath.

This operation forms the latest in a series of CF-supported operations spearheaded by Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) units resulting in multiple IS fatalities in Kirkuk province and adjacent environments. Between 23-24 February, 18 IS members were allegedly killed during an operation in another area of southern Kirkuk province. Between 24-25 February, as many as 39 militants were killed during an operation along the Khanuka Mountains, located in northern Salah ad Din province. More plausible casualty figures cited 8-9 insurgents killed and other losses during this effective security operation.

IS fighters kill two security personnel during attacks south and west of Kirkuk:
As previously discussed, there was an elevated potential for IS retaliatory attacks in the aftermath of these setbacks. Relevant attack intent likely influenced a set of coordinated attacks against security forces in diverse environments of north-central and central Iraq on the evening of 28 February. IS gunmen conducted two attacks against security forces in active rural environments in Kirkuk province, One attack killed one soldier and wounded two others at a checkpoint manned by personnel the 45th Iraqi Army Brigade in Matiq village of Daquq district. Another attack killed a member of the 56th PMF Brigade in Hamdaniyah village, located west of Kirkuk city along the Gara Mountains.

Additional IS activity was reported in traditional hotspots of Diyala province. IS fighters launched an attack near a checkpoint located west of Khanaqin town, northeastern Diyala province. Associated reporting was limited, with no further details available concerning potential casualties. In another incident, 5-6 mortar rounds impacted near a residential area in the Abu Sayda sub-district, located northeast of Baqubah. No casualties were reported.

IS fighters kill three Sunni PMF members north of Baghdad:
The deadliest attack that night was located in a rural area of northern Baghdad province. IS gunmen killed three Sunni PMF members at a post in the Hor al-Basha area of Taji district, located approximately 3km west of Highway 1. Current IS activity in Baghdad province has been largely characterized by efforts to promote IED activity. The 28 February attack near Taji forms the first confirmed IS-authored direct fire incident in Baghdad province thus far in 2019, though multiple attacks involving unclear motives possibly involved IS.

Relevant IS activity includes previous deadly attacks against isolated security forces in northern Baghdad province, and more regular attacks in adjacent environments of southern Salah ad Din province. Also consistent with previous patterns, it is not uncommon for IS to target positions in areas proximate to Highway 1 along the Samarra-Baghdad corridor. Another recent example included an attack that killed at least two policeman and wounded five others near Dujayl town on 14 January. Interestingly, that attack was also coordinated with a mortar attack north of Baqubah as seen during the 28 February events. However, it is important to stress that attacks directly on Highway 1 remain rare in accordance with the prevalence of associated security precautions.

Proactive security operations continuously degrade overall IS capabilities, particularly in comparison with historic heights. Nevertheless, the 28 February attacks served as the latest illustration of the resilient nature of IS-related threats. IS claims of responsibility for the 28 February attacks were not initially seen amongst additional disruptions affecting IS media outlets. The Security Media Cell acknowledged each of the lethal attacks on the evening of 28 February as opposed to typically spotty reporting. Responding security operations were predictably conducted in each of the affected environments, but no significant effects were reported. The tempo of responding security operations is expected to remain elevated over the near-term.

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