The ISF has launched a series of new operations against ISIS along the Iraqi-Syrian Border. The new operations are aimed at ensuring that ISIS militants escaping SDF jails in Syria cannot find refuge in Iraq.
The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are bringing reinforcements to the country border with Syria in preparation for a series of preemptive operations. The operations are aimed at thwarting ISIS attempts or infiltration attempts from Syria where the launch of the Operation Peace Spring launched by the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) led to a deterioration of security conditions and the escape of numerous ISIS militants from prisons.
According to the Iraqi Ministry of Defence, the ISF have already busted a number of ISIS cells that were working to launch attacks across Anbar and Nineveh. Among those killed were militants who were confirmed to have escaped from SDF prisons in Syria. Ministry officials also told reporters that they are in contact with their Turkish and Syrian counterparts to coordinate the security operations. According to the Ministry’s statement, the TSK arrested 134 of the 800 ISIS escapees from the Ain Issa prison camp. Others were captured by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA). However, a large majority of the original 800 remain at large and there are fears that many will try to reach Iraq.
In order to prevent such an outcome, which can aid the revival of ISIS, the ISF is also cooperating with security officials from the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). Together with the Peshmerga, the ISF has instituted controls over Iraq’s borders with Syria and shut down others. The hope that the Iraq-Syria Border, contrary to its reputation for being loosely controlled, can now become a “wall” that prevents militants crossing over. Security officials have spoken optimistically, noting that the situation remains stable and the intelligence sources have, so far, proven themselves to be reliable. The growing use of drones has allowed the ISF to gather data from large parts of the border without needing to depend on the International Coalition or other actors. It is likely that the Operation Will of Victory against ISIS cells in Anbar have also reduced the group’s capacity.
Based on the comments of the security officials, the ISF has learned since 2011 where numerous failings in intelligence gathering, coordination, border security and other factors allowed the Islamic State of Iraq to build itself up unchallenged, culminating in the group taking over large swathes of Anbar and Nineveh.
The threat is not entirely gone. Areas north of Baghdad and the province of Diyala remains an ISIS hot-spot even without militants from Syria crossing over into Iraq. ISIS militants were also implicated with attacks against numerous “soft-targets” such as farmlands earlier in 2019. While the security of the border is important, the ISIS threat that already exists in Iraq should not be ignored.