Iraq News

Iraq celebrates armed forces, victory over ISIS

By Khalid al-Taie

Iraqi soldiers march past dignitaries during a December 10th military parade celebrating their definitive victory over the 'Islamic State of Iraq and Syria'. [Photo courtesy of the Iraqi Prime Minister's media office]

Iraqi soldiers march past dignitaries during a December 10th military parade celebrating their definitive victory over the 'Islamic State of Iraq and Syria'. [Photo courtesy of the Iraqi Prime Minister's media office]

Iraqi Armed Forces Day, held annually on January 6th, will this year mark both the 97th anniversary of the activation of the Iraqi army and the nation's definitive victory over the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIS).

Over the course of three years, Iraqi soldiers have played a central role in winning back cities that had fallen into the group's hands, with the government announcing the final victory over ISIS on December 9th.

"What our soldiers have achieved has been a pride for us and for the world," Defence Ministry spokesman Brig. Tahseen al-Khafaji told Diyaruna.

"The world is more secure and peaceful today thanks to these troops, who have eradicated the most brutal of terrorist organisations and given their lives to defend the Iraqi identity and humanity as a whole," he said.

Iraqi forces also had international support in the battle against ISIS, he said.

Coalition forces have been able to destroy "all of the enemy's sources of power with focused airstrikes", he said, as well as train and equip Iraqi forces to help them prevail against the extremists.

Hunting down ISIS remnants

Despite the recent declaration of victory, the army still has work to do, al-Khafaji said, noting that the first order of business will be an information and intelligence effort to eliminate the group's sleeper cells.

"We currently are carrying out qualitative operations to target weapons and ammunition stores and terrorist hideouts," he said.

These include a December 23rd operation conducted by the Military Intelligence Directorate in Anbar's Heet Island, after local residents discovered a 30-metre underground tunnel where an ISIS cell was hiding, and sounded the alarm.

Iraqi forces killed eight ISIS elements who had been hiding in the tunnel, and destroyed 43 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) found in their possession.

The liberation of ISIS-controlled areas and the tracking down of ISIS remnants have helped strengthen security in all parts of the country, al-Khafaji said, noting that there has been a significant decrease in acts of terrorism.

According to a UN Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) report, 2,885 Iraqis were killed in acts of violence and terrorism in November 2016.

But the number of those killed fell to 381 in the same month in 2017, according to new UNAMI statistics.

New skills and capabilities

"2018 will be a year of training our army as part of a joint work plan with coalition forces to increase its defensive and intelligence capabilities," al-Khafaji said.

"The Iraqi army during its major battles against the terrorists has gained skills and capabilities beyond expectations," said security analyst Fadel Abu Raghif.

"The army was carrying out three tasks simultaneously," he told Diyaruna.

He described these as "fighting fiercely", protecting civilians and preventing ISIS from using them as human shields, and safeguarding and assisting the waves of displaced persons who had fled ISIS and the fighting.

The battle to liberate Mosul was delayed by nine months due to concerns about the safety of the population, he said, noting that the army managed to keep thousands of civilians out of the line of fire and rescue them from ISIS sieges.

The army also managed to fight clean battles, he said, in which it was able to recover large cities without allowing ISIS elements to significantly damage infrastructure, as was the case in Fallujah.

'Precious sacrifices' to defend Iraq

Iraqi army troops have gained strong experience in fighting terrorism and are ready to help the countries of the world fight this scourge, Abu Raghif said.

"They are now equipped with advanced weapons and trained in the latest military systems," he said, calling upon Iraq to continue to develop its military and to inject young blood into its ranks.

ISIS has suffered heavy losses, he added, with the parliamentary security and defence committee estimating that some 70,000 ISIS fighters have been killed, including foreign fighters, and 5,000 others arrested.

"The victory has overthrown the sick dreams of that bloodthirsty group, which has portrayed itself as an invincible force," said Iraqi MP Iskandar Witwit, who serves on that committee.

"The army has given the group a lesson that will not be forgotten, and all that is left of it are frightened elements searching here and there for burrows to take shelter in for fear of campaigns to hunt them down," he told Diyaruna.

Witwit congratulated the army on its founding anniversary, and called on the government and all others "to give material and moral attention to the members of this institution, who have made precious sacrifices to defend their land".

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