Iraqi forces have started to carry out regular campaigns to comb desert areas in search of "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) remnants, tribal leader Sheikh Qatari al-Samarmad told Diyaruna on Wednesday (January 17th).
Joint army, police and tribal forces partake in the periodic campaigns deep into the western desert, he said.
"Our campaigns are no longer carried out in sporadic intervals," said al-Samarmad, who is al-Baghdadi district's tribal mobilisation commander.
They are now conducted on a weekly or semi-weekly basis, he said, with each lasting between 48 to 72 hours.
The campaigns receive aerial support from the Iraqi air force or international coalition aircraft, he added.
The areas covered by these operations extend in two directions: from the south of the cities of al-Baghdadi, Haditha and al-Qaim to the north of al-Rutba, including the Houran and al-Qathf valleys and other remote desert areas.
The second front extends from "north of the Euphrates to the city of Baiji in Salaheddine province and also towards areas adjacent to the Iraqi-Syrian border", al-Samarmad said.
Blocking ISIS attempts to regroup
The combing campaigns have been stepped up with the aim of "denying ISIS elements an opportunity to establish secret bases and strongholds in the desert or to be able to move there freely", he said.
Iraqi forces have recently carried out a series of operations to hunt down ISIS elements south of al-Baghdadi, which resulted in the killing of a number of them and the destruction of several tunnels and hideouts, he said.
"We have destroyed dozens of tunnels in the Houran valley, which is a vast and rugged desert area about 400 kilometres from the border with Saudi Arabia," he said.
Iraqi forces also destroyed stockpiles of weapons and equipment found in al-Huseiniyat, Umm al-Waz, al-Daie and al-Mudhim, all desert areas south of al-Baghdadi, he added.
They found in those areas "many defective vehicles that had been used by the militants for transportation purposes", he said.
Iraqi forces also cleared al-Baghdadi Island, situated along the north-east bank of the Euphrates River between al-Baghdadi and Heet, of ISIS remnants and secured the area against any terror activity, he said.
Inspections have been ongoing there since the largest ISIS hideout in the island was destroyed over a month ago, he said.
"With the help of coalition aircraft, we destroyed a secret cave where 12 terrorists had been hiding, which contained large stocks of weapons and supplies," al-Samarmad said.
"We were able to extract only three bodies, which turned out to belong to local ISIS leaders from the villages of al-Sarrajia and al-Mahboubiya in Heet," he said, noting that "they were wanted for having committed horrible crimes".