ISIS has held its grip over large parts of the Anbar province in Iraq for over 3 years, ever since the terrorist group’s ascendance in the country. These years of oppressive ISIS rule has taken its toll on the civilian population of the province and the gradual demise of the terrorist group has provided the opportunity for tribal forces to liberate their lands.
The Sunni Tribal Forces have cooperated with the Iraqi Armed Forces to chase away ISIS from various parts of Anbar province. They have the full support of civilians who have suffered intolerably while living under ISIS control. They have witnessed devastation, destruction and displacement on a grand scale over these three years.
Human rights activists estimate that around 65,000 civilians are still being held by ISIS militants in the western regions of Anbar, which is currently the largest ISIS-held area in Iraq.
A number of cities have already been liberated in western Anbar by the Iraqi forces since operations in the western regions began in earnest over the past two weeks. Iraqi forces have eliminated ISIS elements from the prominent towns of Akashat and Anah.
Al-Qa’im, just north of Akashat, is considered to be a prominent ISIS stronghold in Anbar province. A recovery operation was launched in the al-Qa’im area from the centre of the city of Rutba.
The regions of western Anbar are teemed with diverse tribal affiliations, and during the rise of ISIS the terrorist group managed to exploit the grievances between the tribes to garner support among them. Nevertheless, civilians being liberated from ISIS are now praising the Iraqi forces for their efforts and are expressing their relief at the expulsion of the terrorist group from their home towns.
From January to early September 2017, the United Nations (UN) estimates that 38,000 people have displaced from West Anbar. In recent weeks, the pace of displacement has increased rapidly with 4,000 people from West Anbar arriving at camps near the liberated city of Ramadi in Anbar.
The focus of the fight against ISIS in Iraq for the past year or so has been concentrated in Nineveh, especially on the lengthy battle to liberate Mosul, which took around 9 months and concluded in July. ISIS militants then moved their base to Tal Afar, which was subsequently after a short liberation effort by the Iraqi forces. Attention is currently mostly on the city of Hawija, in Kirkuk province, which became a centre for the terrorist group after their losses in Nineveh.