Kurdish security forces killed multiple gunmen suspected of being Islamic State guerrilla fighters after they stormed a government building in the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, officials said Monday.
Armed with small arms and hand grenades, the assailants had blasted their way into a building that contains the governance of Erbil, the seat of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region
After a brief standoff, during which the gunmen took hostages, security forces launched a counterassault and killed at least two of the attackers. Kurdish media gave conflicting accounts of the incident, with some reporting that three attackers had been killed by security forces and others reporting that two had been killed and a third arrested.
A government employee was killed and two policemen were wounded in the four-hour gunfight, according to security officials. The attackers are suspected of being ISIS militants.
“We believe that the attackers are from Islamic State because of the tactics they used in breaking into the building from the main gate,” Reuters quoted a Kurdish security official saying. “Two gunmen used pistols to shoot at the guards.”
If ISIS is confirmed to be responsible for Monday’s attack, it would be one of dozens the group has carried out since Iraq declared victory against it in December. Through it no longer controls territory in Iraq, ISIS retains the ability to terrorize urban centers in northern Iraq with hit-and-run attacks on both government and civilian targets.
Some remnants of ISIS have taken refuge in mountainous areas of Iraqi Kurdistan, where cooperation between the Peshmerga and the Iraqi army broke down following the failure of a Kurdish independence referendum in October. Since then, the security situation in the region has worsened, allowing ISIS terror cells to reconstitute themselves. (RELATED: US-Backed Iraqi Forces Drive ISIS Out Of Mountain Hideout)
Mounting guerrilla attacks in Iraq come as the U.S.-led coalition to defeat ISIS has focused most of its efforts on stamping out the group’s presence in neighboring Syria. Over the weekend, coalition-backed Syrian Democratic Forces cleared more than 1,000 square kilometers in the Dashisha area, one of the last pockets of ISIS-held territory along the country’s border with Iraq.
“Dashisha since 2013 has been a key stronghold and transit route for ISIS fighters, weapons, and suicide bombers between Syria and Iraq,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement Sunday. “The SDF now controls the area, with Iraqi Security Forces controlling the Iraqi side of the border. This is a significant milestone.”
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