Conflict

Iraqi forces launch major operations in Anbar desert against ISIS cells

Iraq

The Iraqi Security Forces are pushing ahead in Anbar and are clearing the remaining ISIS cells in the region. This comes in conjunction with operation "Vengeance for the Martyrs" which seeks to eliminate ISIS sleeper cells in Kirkuk, Diyala and Salahuddin Provinces.

Iraqi intelligence reports have confirmed that ISIS sleeper cells are attempting to regroup in the Anbar desert in western Iraq in order to plan and launch attacks on neighbouring provinces. As a result of this, the Iraqi Security Forces have launched operations in the Anbar desert in order to clear out militant cells near Rutba, Rawa, Kubaisa, and Nukhaib districts and the Kilo 160 area west and southwest of the country.

This comes in conjunction with the “Vengeance for the Martyrs” Operations, which were launched in Kirkuk, Diyala and Salahuddin Provinces after the killing of the eight kidnapped Iraqis by ISIS during the last week of July 2018.

The latest series of operations aimed at clearing multiple areas in Anbar Province from ISIS cells have been conducted in coordination with the Sunni Tribal Forces, which are affiliated with the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) and fought alongside the Iraqi Security Forces during the operations against ISIS.

The Tribal Forces confirmed that a large group of ISIS militants armed with heavy weapons and armored vehicles has been spotted regrouping towards Nukhaib. “We have definitive information which confirms the presence of five brigades in Rutba heading towards the desert to Nukhaib. They are gathering in those areas in large numbers,” said Colonel Abdulghani Saher, the commander of the Anbar PMU regiment.

The increasing ISIS attacks and ambushes on citizens and security members on the “Highway of Death,” which links Baghdad to Kirkuk, is considered by many as ISIS’ final attempt to secure their position with their followers in Iraq after being defeated by the ISF and PMU in December 2017.

Others link ISIS’ increased attacks in Iraq as a way of diverting the pressure that it is facing in Syria. “ISIS has increased its operations particularly in Iraq to relieve the pressure [it is facing] in Syria. As a result it has opened new fronts in Iraq,” says Mohammed Daham, an Iraqi academic.

Despite attempts by ISIS to destabilise Iraq, UNAMI figures show that the number of causalities caused by terrorist attacks has declined since the ISIS’ defeat in Iraq.