The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are pushing ahead to eliminate the remaining ISIS cells in the Diyala Province in Iraq. The commander of Diyala’s operations, Lieutenant General Mizher al-Azzawi, said that the forces will comb the province until they reach the borders with Wasit Province.
The Diyala Operation Command has announced the launch of operations to clear out the province from ISIS sleeper cells. The Commander of the Diyala Operation Command, Lieutenant General Mizher al-Azzawi, announced that the operation would go through the Balad Ruz district and the town of Shah Ali, reaching the borders of Wasit Province in eastern Iraq. The Diyala Operation is part of the wider efforts by the Iraqi Security Forces to rid a number of Iraq’s provinces from ISIS sleeper cells.
Despite ISIS’ defeat in December 2017, the group has reduced its presence to sleeper cells scattered around the country, with militants taking shelter in pockets located around the Hamrin Mountains, Kirkuk, Salahuddin, and Diyala Provinces.
ISIS’ positioning along the Kirkuk-Baghdad road has also allowed them to kidnap and kill Iraqis traveling on the road, prompting Iraqis to call that road the “Highway of Death.” In an incident that shocked many in the country, ISIS kidnapped eight Iraqi men and used them to negotiate with the Iraqi Government. ISIS demanded that Iraqi prisons release female ISIS prisoners within three days if they want the eight men returned alive.
Despite the demands, the bodies of the eight men were found dismembered in a road in Diyala Province with signs showing that ISIS had killed them days before the negotiation time had expired.
As a result of this action, the Iraqi Security Forces launched a separate operation called “Vengeance for the Martyrs” which seeks to clear out ISIS cells in the Diyala, Kirkuk, and Salahuddin Provinces. Locals in those areas have been calling for further reinforcements as ISIS is taking advantage of the rough terrain to hide in the desert and the orchards south of the Salahuddin Province.
Additionally, operations were launched in Anbar Province that attempt to clear out the International Highway which connects Iraq to Jordan via the Rutba district.
Many observers consider the actions of ISIS in these provinces as a last-ditch attempt by the group to retain some of the influence it has amongst its followers.