Upper Euphrates welcomes liberating forces
By Khalid al-Taie
In the Upper Euphrates region of Iraq's Anbar province, residents of newly liberated villages and towns have been receiving the Iraqi forces with food, sweets, ululations and other expressions of joy.
Security and tribal forces on September 21st drove the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) from Anah, one of the last occupied cities in western Anbar.
Families had been trapped inside the city, where they faced a shortage of food and medicine and were denied their basic rights, officials said.
"When we arrived, families hung white flags outside their homes," said Col. Mousa Hamad al-Sanad, commander of the Upper Euphrates tribal forces. "They were very happy and could not wait for our arrival."
"As soon as the area was secured, people started leaving their homes and warmly and happily embraced us," he told Diyaruna.
Locals offer key intelligence
Due to the city's small size, residents knew where ISIS bases were to be found, and were instrumental in helping the security forces identify the location of weapons caches, mines and explosives, al-Sanad said.
"Some of the explosives were found embedded in schools, shopping areas and other public places," he said.
Before ISIS was defeated, residents inside Anah provided the security authorities with precise reports on the group's locations and defences, so they could be bombed by Iraqi and coalition air forces, he added.
This information helped destroy the group's capabilities and facilitate its liberation, which took less than three days, with no loss of civilian life.
"It was one of the cleanest, most organised and well-planned of battles," al-Sanad said. "We destroyed dozens of hideouts and killed around 40 terrorists during clashes."
According to local residents, he said, a number of foreign fighters fled to al-Qaim with their families during the military operations that preceded the assault.
Push to liberate remaining areas
Al-Jazeera Operations Command, the Iraqi army's 7th Division and tribal fighters took part in the battle to liberate Anah and nearby villages.
"We are now awaiting orders from the Joint Operations Command to move towards liberating the remaining Upper Euphrates towns, the most important of which are Rawa and al-Qaim," al-Sanad said.
Anah residents played a large role in the victory achieved in their city, Anbar provincial council member Naeem al-Koud told Diyaruna.
"Without their help and positive response, the battle would not have been over this quickly without incurring civilian losses," he said.
"Before the liberation of their city, people would pass on information about ISIS to the security forces by any means available to them in spite of the risk this posed to their lives and that of their families," he said.
This helped Iraqi forces find booby-traps set up by ISIS, al-Koud said.
"The information they provided saved soldiers’ lives and allowed the advancement of the army and search operations to be safer," he added.
Residents fight for their land
Families who had been displaced from the Upper Euphrates by ISIS had a strong hand in taking back their areas, al-Koud said.
In one case, he noted, a former police officer and his son volunteered to fight ISIS, battling the group until they were out of ammunition.
Both men died in the gunfight.
"The people strongly supported the security forces," said Rabah Bdaiwi al-Karbouli, leader of al-Karabla tribe, which took part in the fight against ISIS.
"We have every right to be proud of scores of displaced families from Upper Euphrates who volunteered to fight against terrorism," he told Diyaruna.
They fought to expel ISIS from their lands and sacrificed dearly, he said, adding that they were eager to fight, in spite of the danger.
"The most important thing for them was to take back their land and rescue their trapped families," he added.
Al-Karbouli said the Iraqi forces met with a warm welcome and embraces when they succeeded in liberating Upper Euphrates villages and towns.
"With this kind of environment, terrorism will never again gain a foothold here," he said.