Although Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, had pronounced the liberation of Iraq from ISIS last December, small groups of ISIS militants still remain in hiding within the country. A large proportion of the remaining militants are to be found in the vast desert of Iraq’s largest province, Anbar.
The Iraqi armed forces are continuing to pursue these ISIS hideouts and sleeper cells in Anbar Province. The army notes that its current objective is to clear and secure all territories up to the Iraqi border with Saudi Arabia in the south-west of the country.
The current operation against ISIS was launched from the city of Rutba, leading to the desert of Galabat, the Safawiyat area, the White Dam, the desert of Ma’aleh and finally reaching the Iraqi-Saudi border.
The commander of the Anbar Operations noted that the forces under his command have managed to eliminate four ISIS vehicles and capture three of them as they stormed into camps where ISIS have been in hiding.
Anbar Province has been particularly susceptible to encroachments by ISIS over the past 3-4 years. During the terrorist group’s ascendance in Iraq around 4 years ago, its leaders were able to take advantage of the dissatisfaction of the disenfranchised tribal populations of the province who were suffering from marginalisation by the central government and a lack of employment opportunities.
ISIS was able to tap into this discontent and co-opt a substantial number of people in province, although several thousands did resist to the group.
Large swathes of ISIS-held territories located in the desert areas of western Anbar province were liberated in the second half of 2017. Key strongholds were taken by the Iraqi Army, including Rawa, Akashat, Anah and al-Qaim, leading to the demise of ISIS in the whole province.
Much of the province is now going through a reconstruction and rehabilitation process with the intention of providing security, stability, services and employment to the population, which will eventually prevent future unrest.