Islamic State group gunmen kill nine Iraqi police officers

Mourners pray in front of a coffin of a policeman who was killed in an attack in Kirkuk, during a funeral in Najaf, Iraq, December 18, 2022Reuters

Islamic State group jihadists said Sunday they had carried out an attack in northern Iraq killing nine police officers, setting off a roadside bomb before machine-gunning survivors.

The attack in the Kirkuk area—which police said left nine federal officers dead—is one of the deadliest in Iraq in recent months.

IS fighters attacked “a police patrol... detonated an explosive device then attacked them with machine guns and hand grenades,” the group said in a statement on the Telegram messaging app.

A federal police officer, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, said the bomb blast hit a vehicle transporting members of Iraq’s federal police near the village of Shalal al-Matar.

It was then followed by “a direct attack with small arms”, the officer added.

“An assailant has been killed, and we are looking for the others,” the officer said.

IS jihadists seized large swathes of Iraqi and Syrian territory in 2014, declaring a “caliphate” where they ruled with brutality before their defeat in late 2017 by Iraqi forces backed by a US-led military coalition.

IS lost its last Syrian bastion, near the Iraqi border, in 2019.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani condemned the violence as a “cowardly terrorist attack”.

Security forces should show “vigilance, carefully inspect the roads and not provide any opportunity for terrorist elements”, he said.

Sleeper cells

The US-led anti-IS coalition continued a combat role in Iraq until December last year, but roughly 2,500 American soldiers remain in the country to assist in the fight against the jihadists.

IS cells, however, remain active in several areas of Iraq.

On Wednesday, three Iraqi soldiers were killed and three others wounded when a bomb exploded as their patrol vehicle passed through farmland in Tarmiya, a rural municipality about 30 kilometres (20 miles) north of the capital Baghdad that is a known hotspot for IS sleeper cells.

Last month a machine gun attack on a remote northern Iraqi military post killed four soldiers near Kirkuk, a military source said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Iraqi security forces continue to carry out counter-terrorism operations against the group, and the deaths of IS fighters in airstrikes and raids are regularly announced.

Despite the setbacks, which has left IS a shadow of its former self, the group has “maintained its ability to launch attacks at a steady pace”, a January report by the United Nations read.

The UN estimates the jihadist organisation maintains between 6,000 and 10,000 fighters inside Iraq and Syria, exploiting the porous border between the two countries and concentrating mainly in rural areas.