Iraqi forces have ramped up security operations in Samarra Island ahead of a religious commemoration on March 22nd.
They have already arrested and killed a number of "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) elements who remained in the area to the south-west of Samarra city, officials tell Diyaruna.
"The ongoing operations can be described as pre-emptive and are part of the preparations for the commemoration of the passing of Imam Ali al-Hadi, a religious festivity that brings millions of visitors to the area," Samarra governor Mahmoud Khalaf told Diyaruna Friday (March 9th).
The city also is preparing for the start of the spring season which traditionally sees an increase in the number of tourists seeking to visit the city's archaeological sites and enjoy its natural landmarks, he said.
"The troops are carrying out security operations around the clock in the city’s surroundings, especially in the area of Samarra Island," Khalaf said.
They have begun over the past two days "to intensify their activity in that area and in other areas near it, only 10 kilometres from Samarra’s municipal borders, to clear them of remaining ISIS elements", he said.
A number of terror elements were killed or arrested, he said, adding that weapon caches and terrorists rest houses were destroyed.
Among those arrested were eight dangerous elements wanted on terrorism charges.
One of the detainees was Zaidoun Farhan Ali Hazza al-Qaisi, a "media official" of ISIS's "Northern Baghdad province", Khalaf said, noting that documents and photos of terror crimes that were committed by the group were found in his possesion.
On Thursday, Iraqi forces killed three ISIS elements who were planning to blow themselves up in al-Ishaqi Island, 20 kilometres south of Samarra.
The Iraqi air force has also conducted airstrikes against militant strongholds in areas north of Samarra and killed militants who were riding a boat in the Tigris River.
The recent surge in security operations is "based on accurate intelligence provided by local residents", Khalaf said, noting that their support is "an important element in achieving security successes".