ISIS is Worming Their Way Back into Iraq
ISIS faced its defeat earlier this year in Syria and have been sneaking back into Iraq. According to security officials, the Islamic State Militants are slowly regrouping across the northern and central parts of Iraq. Over the past eight months, around 1,000 ISIS fighters have entered the country as the caliphate collapsed in March.
Hisham al-Hashimi, who is a security analyst and is an advisor to foreign aid agencies and the Iraqi government put out the report recently. They are returning home and are hiding in tunnels, rugged rural areas, and other hiding places.
They are equivalent to the nocturnal creatures and mostly come out at night with sniper attacks and roadside bombs every week. ISIS mostly carries out their attacks outside city limits, and their targets are security forces and community leaders who are working to get rid of the terrorist group.
ISIS has sent multiple videos to the media of their assassinations of fighters and notables known as “mokhtars” whose job is to identify people who are linked to ISIS. One abductee in a video was forced to put out this statement at the beginning of the year, “I warn all the mokhtars that the Islamic State can reach anywhere they want.” The statement was meant for community figures and anyone who cooperates with Iraqi government forces.
The Iraqi government has been holding their own since America withdrew most of its troops to let them run their own government and military. At the beginning of this month, they have announced they are starting up a new military campaign designed to clear and secure the desert and the 370-mile border of Iraq and Syria. As soon as the announcement was made, a few days later, they killed several ISIS militants who were making bombs in factories.
It has become a great challenge to spot the militant fighters as Col. Saad Mohammed stated while driving through the desert, “Look at where they’re hiding. It’s deserts. It’s caves. It’s places no one can ever fully control. How many units would we need to secure every inch? Too many. No one has that capacity.”
Col. Mohammed is a veteran who fought in all the major battles between the Iraqi forces and ISIS. He took seven bullets to his chest in 2017 in a gun battle near Qaim. The Iraq government claimed victory over the Islamic State’s caliphate toward the end of 2017. The victory came as the security forces drove ISIS out of the city of Qaim.
ISIS made its final stand when the U.S. backed forces circled around thousands of ISIS militants in Baghouz, Syria. The battle lasted a week as the last of a half-square-mile was fought over by the caliphate. One soldier reported under the airstrikes, the Euphrates trembled. Soldiers carried away many dead bodies of those who tried to escape the airstrikes and drowned.
Now everything seems quiet along the river, but Islamist militants are using disguises as shepherds to slip into Iraq. Security officials stated they often go undetected and have no destinations. Many ISIS militants go by foot while the rest go through the desert in cars. Those in cars sometimes get caught by drones or the U.S. or Iraqi airstrikes. One Iraqi military leader stated, “When the Islamic State fighters are cornered, they hit back fiercely. Then, they’re fighting for their lives.” Another senior military official stated, “These are tough fights. They’re not giving up.”
Iraq’s Defense Ministry and analyst are tracking the extremist group, and there are signs ISIS may have the potential to rebuild quick enough to regain territory or gather significant support and grow. ISIS is expecting as they take over communities one at a time for the Iraqi government to turn a blind eye. An expert with the International Crisis Group, Sam Heller stated, “It doesn’t necessarily need to win people over in order to cow them into collaboration of noncooperation.” Heller continued, “In 2013 and 2014, it’s now clear that many people did not fully understand what ISIS was or how it was meaningfully different to other groups opposing the state. Now, a lot of these same communities have collectively expelled [anyone] with a perceived link.”
Traveling the road to Qaim, there are scars from earlier battles with ISIS. There are signs of life coming back to the nearby towns, but most remain ghost towns. A community elder stated, “The people of Anbar are keener than even the government not to return to life under ISIS.”