Iraq: ISIS sets its sight on oil-rich Kirkuk

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Security forces supported by tribes take position to fight against Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) in Ramadi, Iraq, on October 17, 2014. (Photo - Anadolu Agency)

By: Ahmed Hadi

Published Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Since its inception and the beginning of its expansion, ISIS sought to control oil resources and wealth in Syria. Its power extended to Iraq through control of the oil fields in Nineveh and Kirkuk governorates and the raid of the Baiji refinery, one of the largest in the Middle East. In its attempts to capture Iraqi cities, the organization used malicious military tactics, engaging army units in one city and forcing security forces to increase their presence there, then attacking and taking over another city that it considers more important.

Kirkuk – This policy was embodied when fighting on al-Anbar front exploded in the past few days with the ISIS assault against the city of Hīt and the siege on the strategic cities of Haditha, al-Baghdadi, Amiriya, and Faluja. This is in addition to the wide-scale assault on al-Ramadi, the capital of al-Anbar region.

However, exclusive sources informed Al-Akhbar of a large mobilization of ISIS forces around the city of Kirkuk (240 km north of the Iraqi capital) on three fronts. Eyewitnesses from the city contacted by Al-Akhbar maintained seeing a "massive mobilization by ISIS in the vicinity of al-Hawija (50 km west of Kirkuk), as hundreds of foreign fighters arrived in the city along with huge amounts of ammunition, heavy weapons, and vehicles."

Hawija had fallen under ISIS control on June 10, 2014, after the almost complete withdrawal of the four brigades of the twelfth division of the Iraqi army who were charged with protecting the city. The city is the center of one of Kirkuk's largest districts and is a tribal area with a majority Sunni population.

To the south of Kirkuk in the Daquq district, eyewitnesses also confirmed that ISIS was preparing and rallying its troops for a possible attack on Kirkuk.

On the city's eastern front, in al-Dibs, eyewitnesses from the region saw large gatherings of ISIS fighters organizing their ranks and receiving a large amount of supplies from Mosul.

"A close observation of the movements of ISIS allows the prediction of its possible next moves," military expert Alaa al-Juhaishi told Al-Akhbar. "It began using a policy of distraction, diverting the attention of security forces towards one particular goal and at the same time carrying out a surprise attack in another location."

"This is what ISIS is doing now in Kirkuk. It created a need to deploy troops to al-Ramadi, Anbar's capital, and the vicinity of Qarah Tapah east of Diyala. At the same time, it is amassing troops on three active and vital fronts around Kirkuk."

The city remained under the control of the Iraqi government until ISIS began attacking several of its districts and vicinities. This led to the withdrawal of the Iraqi army's twelfth division, which was replaced by the Peshmerga forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government.

For ISIS, taking control of Kirkuk is important due to its oil reserves. The city has six main oil fields – Baba Karkar with 433 oil wells, al-Qayara and Ujail with 91 wells each, Khabbaz with 36 wells, Bai Hassan with 196, and Jambour with 25.

ISIS currently controls the majority of the oil fields in Kirkuk governorate, with the exception of the largest – Baba Karkar. The group has begun to extract crude oil from Ujail and is selling it to international mafias.

According to petroleum expert Musab al-Kaabi, "Kirkuk is one of Iraq's most important cities in the north, due to its natural wealth, especially in oil and natural gas. It has the capacity to produce 400,000 barrels a day, which could be increased to 750,000 barrels per day in the next few months."

"Controlling the oil-rich city will provide ISIS with unprecedented amounts of money. In a month's time, the fields could provide it with millions of US dollars," Kaabi told Al-Akhbar. These warnings coincided with a statement by the Kirkuk Governorate Council maintaining that security forces have the city under control and are ready to defend it from any attack.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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