"Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) fighters who fled to al-Rutba's desert in Anbar province are masquerading as shepherds in order to evade security forces, an Iraqi official told Diyaruna on Monday (November 6th).
"We know for certain that al-Rutba's desert still harbours many ISIS elements, especially those who have fled the fighting in western Anbar," said al-Rutba governor Emad Mashaal al-Dulaimi.
"Our local sources estimate that there are dozens of terrorists there," he told Diyaruna.
They are disguising themselves as shepherds or wearing desert camouflage clothes in order to avoid detection from the air, he said.
"ISIS is still active in the desert," al-Dulaimi said, adding that military campaigns are underway there.
Iraqi forces on Saturday and Sunday carried out a large-scale sweep of al-Rutba's desert in search of the group's hideouts.
Large military units from the Anbar and Middle Euphrates Operations Commands and air force, police, border patrol and tribal forces participated in the campaign, he said.
The new sweep campaign started from the outskirts of the Kilo 160 area, east of Anbar, towards al-Nukhaib, onwards to south of al-Rutba, and all the way to the border with Saudi Arabia, al-Dulaimi said.
Large desert areas were combed along both sides of the Anbar international highway, between 250 and 300 kilometres deep into the desert, he said.
He cited military sources who confirmed that the campaign resulted in the destruction of 10 ISIS camps and hideouts in the desert, which contained weapons and ammunition.
"The available information did not indicate any deaths of ISIS terrorists during the campaign," he said, but the units carried out large-scale investigations of militants' presence in al-Rutba’s northern and southern military airports and a number of scattered small villages.
Al-Dulaimi said the campaign is a good step, but considered it "insufficient" to eliminate all terror hideouts in desert areas in western Iraq.
"We need weekly campaigns throughout the year in order to constantly pursue and strike terrorist elements," he said.
They "should not be allowed the opportunity to regroup and use the desert as a base or route for attacking cities and targeting civilians", he said.
He also called for the establishment of permanent military bases in remote areas and the deployment of fully equipped airborne units to detect, pursue and strike the militants.