Despite being defeated militarily, ISIS sleeper cells remain in the country's desert region. As a result the Iraqi security forces have launched operations to clear the desert from these militants.
The defeat of ISIS militants across Iraq throughout 2017 dramatically reduced violence across the country after Iraqi Security Forces liberated all of the territory lost in 2014 and 2015. The remaining ISIS militants who fled these battles or went underground now form part of the group’s sleeper cell network in sections of the country, including in Anbar, Salahuddin, Diyala and Nineveh Provinces. Since their defeat in December 2017, ISIS militants have launched a series of kidnappings and surprise attacks on forces and civilians employing insurgency tactics. Recently, eight men were kidnapped by ISIS on the Kirkuk-Baghdad road and the kidnappers gave the Iraqi Government a three-day period to free captured female ISIS militants in exchange for saving their life. However, despite efforts from the Counter Terrorism Forces, the three-day period expired and the eight kidnapped men were killed. The case has caused massive uproar on social media as this is not the first instance of surprise attacks and kidnappings by ISIS on the Kirkuk-Baghdad road.
As a result of such attacks, the Iraqi Security Forces have launched massive operations on the desert and border areas to find and dismantle ISIS sleeper cells which have been using the desert as a launching point for their insurgency operations.
The operations, which have begun in Anbar, Mosul, Tikrit, and Diyala, have been coordinated between the tribal forces, border forces, local police and army, and the coalition forces. Thus far, the operations have led to the capture of dozens of ISIS militants including many prominent and high ranking ISIS figures.
The operations which have been called ‘preemptive offensives’ are seeking to secure the border with Jordan and Syria to prevent further infiltration across international borders.
“We are chasing ISIS members as deep as 200km into the desert from Rutba until the Syrian border,” said a security official.
These operations will be crucial for Iraq’s future if the nation’s officials and security leaders want to prevent ISIS sleeper cells from regrouping and planning more significant attacks on Iraqi cities like those that occurred in and after June 2014.