Iraqi officials are blaming the Islamic State (IS) terror group for an attack Sunday that killed at least nine police officers in the northern province of Kirkuk.
A bomb struck a police vehicle on patrol in the southern part of Kirkuk, Iraqi state media reported. The explosion was quickly followed by firefight when gunmen, reportedly affiliated with IS, attacked the car.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but Iraqi security sources told local media that IS elements were likely behind it.
Yahya Rasool, a military spokesman for the Iraqi government said the country’s Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani has directed the head of the federal police to start an investigation into the attack.
Rakan Saeed al-Jubouri told the Iraqi News Agency the Sunday attack “will not go without punishment for the terrorist elements,” calling on improving the security of his province.
IS militants in recent weeks have been exploiting the volatile security situation in Kirkuk and nearby provinces, an Iraqi lawmaker said.
“Many villagers in the area have left their homes and IS terrorists are now using those villages as hideouts,” Sheikh Wasfi al-Asi, a member of the Iraqi parliament who represents Kirkuk, told VOA, adding that “one solution to prevent such attacks is arming the local youth and embedding them within the Iraqi security forces.”
Despite its territorial defeat, IS remains active in several provinces of Iraqi's north, particularly in areas that are considered "disputed" between the central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government.
On Wednesday, a military officer and two soldiers were killed after an improvised explosive device (IED) attack targeted their vehicle in an area north of the capital, Baghdad, local media reported.
Military officials said the terror group’s movement also depends on the political environment in the country.
IS, which is a Sunni Muslim group, “had been deploying militants to Baghdad, hoping to take advantage of an anticipated political strife between Shiite groups,” said Muhammed Rustam, an officer with the Kurdish Peshmerga forces.
“But now that they know there won’t be any major political conflict among Shiites, we see them rebuild their presence and carry out more attacks in disputed areas,” he told VOA.
VOA’s Dilshad Anwar contributed to this report from Kirkuk, Iraq.