Members of Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) take part in a military parade in the town of Taza, south of the northern oil city of Kirkuk, Iraq June 28, 2019. REUTERS/Ako Rasheed
Members of Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces take part in a military parade in the town of Taza, south of the northern oil city of Kirkuk, Iraq, June 28, 2019.

WASHINGTON - Islamic State (IS) militants killed four security officials late Wednesday near the northern city of Kirkuk, local officials said.

The attack, which was carried out on a checkpoint manned by local Kurdish security forces, also left at least eight people wounded, local sources said.

“At least 15 IS militants, including a couple snipers, were involved in the overnight raid,” a senior Iraqi security official told VOA.

The Iraqi official, who refused to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to reporters, added that the militants used mortars in the Wednesday attack.

In the nearby province of Saladin, at least five Iraqi soldiers and government-backed militia members were killed in an IS attack on their positions, Iraqi police reported Thursday.

IS has not yet claimed responsibility for either attack.

In response to Wednesday’s attacks, Iraqi warplanes carried out an airstrike on an IS position, killing at least three militants, an Iraqi security official said.

A member of the Iraqi Kurdish security stands guard outside the restaurant where a gunman opened fire in Irbil, the capital of northern Iraq's Kurdish autonomous region, July 17, 2019.
A member of the Iraqi Kurdish security stands guard outside the restaurant where a gunman opened fire in Irbil, the capital of northern Iraq's Kurdish autonomous region, July 17, 2019.

Increased attacks

IS has increased its attacks in recent weeks against Iraqi and Kurdish forces in parts of northern Iraq that were held by the terror group before they were freed with the help of the U.S.-led coalition.

A VOA reporter in Iraq said one of the targeted areas has largely been safe until recently, with IS increasingly carrying out surprise attacks against civilians and security forces in places like Kirkuk, Diyala and Mosul.

Mosul was considered the de facto capital of IS in Iraq. Supported by U.S. airpower, Iraqi troops liberated the country’s second-largest city from IS in July 2017. The terror group was officially declared defeated in Iraq in December 2017.

Since then, however, remnants of IS have frequently targeted vital parts of the region.

Iraqi farmers and other residents attempt to put out a fire that engulfed a wheat field in the northern town of Bashiqa, east of Mosul, Iraq, June 12, 2019.
FILE - Iraqi farmers and other residents attempt to put out a fire that engulfed a wheat field in the northern town of Bashiqa, east of Mosul, Iraq, June 12, 2019.

During the harvest season this year, IS also set fire to thousands of acres of wheat fields across northern and western Iraq, inflicting substantial damage on the local economy, reports said.

IS militants have also attempted attacks on oilfields in northern Iraq. Last week, Iraqi forces foiled two major attacks claimed by IS on the strategic Olas and Ajil oilfields in Saladin province, the Iraqi military said.

Cells across northern Iraq

The extremist group has active cells across areas in northern Iraq considered disputed between the central Iraqi government and Kurdistan regional government, according to Iraqi officials.

IS “was territorially defeated, but the context for their [re-emergence] in disputed territories is permissive. Terror is [a] continuous threat,” Hemin Hawrami, deputy speaker of Iraqi Kurdistan’s regional parliament, said in a tweet Thursday.

U.S. officials also have warned that IS’s ongoing activities pose a threat to Iraq’s stability.

“After the defeat of ISIS in Mosul, Iraq didn’t have an ISIS terrain-holding threat,” James Jeffrey, special envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat IS, told reporters at the State Department on Thursday, using another acronym for IS.

“But what we have seen is a persistent, resilient, rural, terrorist level of violence generated by these underground cells of ISIS, particularly in areas from south of Mosul and the Kurdish areas down to Baghdad,” he said.