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After ISIS assault on Kirkuk, Iraq pushes into town near Mosul

Mosul update
Mosul update 02:03

BARTELLA, Iraq -- The Iraqi army pushed into a town near the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-held city of Mosul on Saturday, a day after dozens of ISIS militants stormed into the northern city of Kirkuk, setting off two days of clashes and killing at least 80 people, mostly security forces.

ISIS attacks Kirkuk 02:19

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter meanwhile met with Iraq’s prime minister and commanders in Baghdad to discuss the offensive to retake Mosul, which the U.S. is supporting with airstrikes and advisers on the ground.

An American official told CBS News that there was some evidence of worsening morale among ISIS fighters in Mosul and that some locals have killed the men manning ISIS checkpoints.

Some ISIS fighters have wounded themselves to get off the front lines, and ISIS has conscripted members of the religious police, who are not happy about it, the official said.

The Iraqi army said the 9th Division has pushed into the town of Hamdaniyah, also known as Qaraqosh and Bakhdida, and raised the flag over its government compound, but the troops were likely still facing resistance in and around the town. Similar past announcements have often proved premature.

ISIS launches payback attack 01:50

The town is around 12 miles from Mosul. Iraqi forces launched a wide-scale offensive earlier this week aimed at retaking Mosul, the country’s second largest city, which fell to ISIS in 2014.

Hamdaniyah is believed to be largely uninhabited. ISIS has heavily mined the approaches to Mosul, and Iraqi forces have had to contend with roadside bombs, snipers and suicide truck bombs as they move closer to the city.

The American official who spoke to CBS News said that in the coming months ISIS will “revert to a cellular terrorist organization” and continue to recruit people to “come to Iraq and blow themselves up.” The ISIS strategy has been to create several perimeters around each village where the men “fight to the death,” the official said

The Iraqis must break through each one to gain control, the official said. In Mosul, “we have to prepare for the worst case - it could be a protracted fight,” the official said. The U.S. has not been surprised by the level of resistance offered by ISIS so far, the official said.

ISIS said it foiled an attack on Hamdaniyah and seized vehicles and weapons left by retreating Shiite militiamen. The claim, carried by the extremist group’s Aamaq news agency, could not be confirmed.

Syria and Iraq in debate 03:22

An Iraqi television station says one of its reporters was shot dead near Mosul, the second journalist in as many days to be killed while covering the conflict.

Alsumaria TV says cameraman Ali Risan was shot in the chest by a sniper Saturday during a battle in the al-Shura area. Journalist Ahmet Haceroglu of Turkmeneli TV was shot dead by a militant sniper Friday, while covering the ISIS assault on Kirkuk.

Iraqi forces retook the town of Bartella, around nine miles east of Mosul, earlier this week, but are still facing pockets of resistance in the area.

In Kirkuk, meanwhile, some fighting continued a day after the ISIS assault on the city, some 100 miles southeast of Mosul. The wave of attacks in and around Kirkuk appeared to be an attempt to divert attention from Mosul.

CBS News correspondent Holly Williams and her crew were with a local SWAT team as they fought a gunbattle with ISIS in Kirkuk on Friday. A surprise attack started with multiple suicide bombings before the extremists holed up inside buildings. Commander Louay Mohammed, who is from Kirkuk, told Williams he’ll fight ISIS until every last one of the extremists is dead.

Battle to retake ISIS-held Mosul 01:45

Brig. Gen. Khattab Omer of the Kirkuk police said at least 80 people were killed in the assault, mainly Kurdish security forces. Another 170 were wounded, he said, adding that a sundown curfew has been imposed on the city.

The American official who spoke to CBS News said the attack in Kirkuk was carried out by 50-80 ISIS fighters, mostly foreign. The official said it was a “total failure” for ISIS because most of their fighters were killed or captured.

“These are their best assets,” the official said. They “lost a bunch yesterday.”

Omer said Kurdish security forces recovered the bodies of 56 militants who took part in the attack. The Kurds assumed control of Kirkuk in 2014, when the Iraqi army and police crumbled in the face of a lightning ISIS advance across northern Iraq.

Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the Kirkuk assault was a terrorist attack and not a military breach.

Mosul offensive slowed 02:00

“Nearly all the terrorists who entered Kirkuk have been eliminated, and we have full control, except for maybe one area where they are being flushed out,” he said after meeting with Carter.

As the assault on Kirkuk was underway, an airstrike hit a funeral procession in the town of Daquq to the south, killing 17 people, mainly women and children, and wounding another 50, said Daquq Mayor Amir Khodakram. He said it was not clear who carried out the airstrike and that officials have launched an investigation.

The Russian Defense Ministry blamed the strike on the U.S.-led coalition, saying it had “all the signs of a war crime.” Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, the spokesman for the ministry, said two jets were involved in the raid, and apparently mistook the procession for a gathering of militants.

The U.S. military in Baghdad could not immediately be reached for comment.

Iraq launched a long-awaited operation on Monday aimed at retaking Mosul. It is the largest operation undertaken by Iraqi forces since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and is expected to take weeks, if not months.

Carter’s visit comes two days after a U.S. service member was killed outside Mosul, underscoring the risk that American troops are taking as they advise Iraqi forces in the fight.

More than 4,800 U.S. troops are in Iraq and there are more than 100 U.S. special operations forces operating with Iraqi units. Hundreds more American troops are playing a support role in staging bases farther from the front lines.

Elsewhere in Iraq, a burning sulfur plant south of Mosul that was torched by ISIS is releasing large amounts of noxious gas into the atmosphere, draping towns in the area in toxic smoke.

The air has turned a greyish color as it mixes with smoke from earlier oil well fires set by the militants. The fumes make breathing difficult, with residents saying they are suffering from coughing, headaches and nosebleeds from as far as 18 miles away. A small area hospital has treated some 250 people for breathing difficulties.

Two U.S. military officials said that while the fire was set two days ago, the winds shifted earlier Saturday, sending the smoke south toward Qayara West air field, a staging area for the Mosul offensive. The officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

They said troops at the base were wearing protective masks because of the breathing concerns, and estimated it could take two to three days to put the fire out.

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