Iraq News

ISIS targets off-duty soldiers in western Anbar

By Alaa Hussain in Baghdad

Iraqi forces amass on the international highway near al-Rutba in western Anbar ahead of the May 2016 battle to liberate the town. [Photo courtesy of the War Media Cell Facebook page]

Iraqi forces amass on the international highway near al-Rutba in western Anbar ahead of the May 2016 battle to liberate the town. [Photo courtesy of the War Media Cell Facebook page]

As direct confrontations with the Iraqi forces are unlikely to end well for the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS), the group has resorted to picking off unarmed soldiers on leave in isolated areas, Iraqi officials tell Diyaruna.

In an April 25th incident, ISIS fighters blocked a peripheral road near the western Anbar province city of al-Rutba, which is surrounded by desert.

Iraqi police sources said the gunmen were armed with automatic rifles and rocket launchers and attacked both civilian and military vehicles carrying off-duty soldiers near al-Rutba, killing 10 soldiers and wounding others.

"The attack on the on-leave soldiers shows the criminal and bloody nature of the terrorist group, which has resumed waging guerrilla tactics in targeting Iraqi security personnel and Iraqi civilians," said al-Rutba mayor Emad al-Dulaimi.

"They are using the vast sprawling desert that surrounds the city of al-Rutba from all sides as a launch pad for bloody terrorist attacks," he told Diyaruna.

"They hide there in underground shelters to avoid detection by Iraqi aircraft and roam in it dressed as sheep herders or foot travelers," he said. "They move in small groups and undergo training at the terrorist group’s training camps."

A more effective plan

The solution does not lie in conventional security and military measures, al-Dulaimi said, but requires more effective security plans.

These plans should include the establishment of a military airport near al-Rutba and the use of combat helicopters to provide continuous air cover over western Anbar's vast desert areas, he said.

"The air cover must be ready to pursue terrorist groups on a moment’s notice and not give them enough time to vanish into the desert again, and eliminate them with effective airstrikes," he added.

He also called for involving tribesmen in the security and military effort to monitor the surrounding desert, since they are inhabitants of the area and know the terrain better than anyone else.

"Without such measures, the terrorist attacks are likely to recur, especially as the terrorist group has realised it is incapable of winning a military confrontation and its only option is to wage guerrilla warfare and a war of attrition," he said.

Reinforcements on the way

The April 25th incident, which took place 70 kilometres east of al-Rutba, was not the first of its kind, as ISIS has carried out similar attacks in recent weeks, said al-Rutba district council security committee chairman Sheikh Ali Abd Atyawi.

"The group takes advantage of the fact that on-leave soldiers travel unarmed in civilian vehicles and commits its crimes against them, including its most recent terrorist crime," he told Diyaruna.

He called on the 1st Iraqi Military Division to strengthen security measures in the area, and revealed that the Anbar Operations Command plans to send additional reinforcements of one brigade from the 10th Iraqi Military Division.

Sheikh Ghassan al-Ithawi, spokesman for Anbar's tribal fighters, said that Iraqi forces will soon purge all the towns in westernmost Anbar to impose security and stability throughout the province.

"In the wake of its defeat on all fronts, the group retreated to the desert," he told Diyaruna. "Its elements are acting like gangs and thieves to buff up its image that has been shattered and its legend that has been destroyed in Iraq."

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