While much of the world’s attention remains focused in the events taking place in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk, in Anbar Province of western Iraq, security forces continue their operations to secure the region from ISIS. This week, Iraqi officials announced that they have fully secured the Waleed Border Crossing into Syria’s Homs Province and are working to ensure they are returned to working condition.
The crossing is of great strategic and political importance due its location on land where the borders between Iraq, Jordan and Syria intersect. Furthermore, the region has been a hotbed of ISIS activity over the years.
During the height of the group’s terror, an infamous militant by the name of Shakir Wahiyib used to lead the ISIS forces here. He would stop truckers coming in from Jordan, subject them to a “Quranic Quiz” and kill those that failed to answer correctly. Wahiyib has since been killed and the militant presence is diminished enough that Jordan has reopened its borders with Iraq, allowing trade to resume. However, the militants are still strong enough to conduct hit-and-run attacks on the highway and threaten the nearby town of Rutbah that sits along the highway leading into both Iraq and Syria.
Thus, the main task for the security forces here in Anbar is to make sure that the highway remains secure as they continue the operations to liberate the rest of the countryside from the militants. Security officials here say that they have dug trenches and erected berms to limit militant movements.
Meanwhile, sophisticated and modern surveillance technologies have been deployed in the region, allowing greater oversight in a region that has traditionally been known for fallout out of reach of central authorities. These measures, so far, have paid off. Since the borders between Iraq and Jordan reopened, no major attacks on truckers have taken place, and the Amman-Ramadi Highway remains secure. Moreover, numerous attempts to smuggle weapons into ISIS-held parts of Anbar have been foiled.
Now that the Waleed Border Crossing into Syria is secure as well, security officials here hope to deploy similar measures, allowing traffic to resume if and when the borders between the two countries are open. The situation, however, is a lot more complex there. The Syrian side of the border is controlled by the rebels headquartered in the Tanf Base and the nearby refugee camps. They, in turn, are under a blockade by the Syrian Army and its militia allies.