Iraq News

New Iraq ISIS province is mostly propaganda: officials

By Khalid al-Taie

Diyala police chief Maj. Gen. Jassim al-Saadi inspects guard posts of the tribal forces in al-Muqdadiyah. [Photo from the Diyala police command Facebook page]

Diyala police chief Maj. Gen. Jassim al-Saadi inspects guard posts of the tribal forces in al-Muqdadiyah. [Photo from the Diyala police command Facebook page]

News that the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) has designated a new area of Iraq as its "Wilayat al-Jabal" (mountain province) should not be greeted with undue alarm, Diyala province officials tell Diyaruna.

Iraqi forces are firmly in control of most of this area, they said, noting that the declaration is merely a smokescreen designed to conceal the group's diminished stature and to project the illusion that it is regrouping and will return in force.

Local sources say ISIS has declared the area that extends from north-western Diyala towards Salaheddine and Kirkuk provinces as its "Wilayat al-Jabal".

The group has spread the word that it is using the agricultural town of Mutaibija -- in northern al-Muqdadiyah, on the border with Salaheddine -- as its main command and control centre in the area, they report.

It also has made it known that it plans to regroup there in order to launch attacks on liberated areas.

"ISIS does not have the ability required to achieve actual gains," acting al-Muqdadiyah district governor Hatem Abd Jawad al-Tamimi told Diyaruna.

The group's claims to have established "Wilayat al-Jabal" are no more than empty propaganda it is trying to peddle in order to fool its followers into believing that it still possesses strength, he said.

'We are monitoring them'

"The real state of ISIS today is the complete opposite of the image it is trying to promote," al-Tamimi said, noting that it has been reduced to carrying out sporadic attacks in a narrow stretch between Diyala, Kirkuk, and Salaheddine.

ISIS elements move around in small groups in the dark and set up hideouts in uninhabited areas and scattered villages to exploit the rugged terrain, he said, which is hard to keep under tight security control.

"The security forces are dealing firmly with any danger posed by these terrorists, however limited," al-Tamimi said. "They continue to be tracked and pursued, and warplanes are pounding their hideouts."

Iraqi police and army forces occasionally raid covert ISIS positions in the Hamreen hills and in the orchards of Diyala.

These forces "will not allow the enemy to reach its targets and pose a threat to safe and liberated cities", Diyala police spokesman Col. Ghaleb al-Attia said.

"We are carefully following all information and we have ongoing campaigns to root out terrorists in co-ordination with the Tigris and Salaheddine operation commands," he told Diyaruna.

"They are trying to infiltrate and seeking to find a safe foothold in rural villages and towns of the province’s north-west," he said, specifically Mutaibija, al-Makhisa and the area of al-Azim dam. "But we are monitoring them."

"Over the past two months, we have killed 19 terrorists who infiltrated those villages and were staying in hideouts, planning to carry out suicide and terrorist attacks against the residents of our province's cities," he said.

'Disappointment and disillusion'

The Diyala police have been working to increase communication with local residents, particularly those whose property and crops have been destroyed by ISIS or whose children have been abused by them.

"Such residents may provide valuable intelligence about suspicious elements and movements," al-Attia said.

ISIS elements have been spreading the word that they are regrouping in the mountainous areas "in order to alleviate the burden of their defeats", said Diyala provincial council member Khodar Muslim.

But the idea that they will be able to stage an offensive from these areas to reclaim their control over the cities they have lost is just an illusion, he said.

"This information is part of the disappointment and disillusion ISIS elements are feeling," he told Diyaruna, noting that most areas of Diyala they claim are part of "Wilayat al-Jabal" are actually under the control of Iraqi forces.

"These areas are witnessing an infiltration of ISIS terrorists from the city of al-Hawija and Salaheddine province, but in very small numbers, and they usually fall to our forces’ hands or are eliminated in their hideouts," Muslim said.

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