Security forces and Iraqi tribes in the northern Salaheddine city of al-Shirqat are conducting an operation in the Makhoul mountains in search of the perpetrators of a bloody April 13th attack that killed dozens of city residents.
The operation, launched April 16th, aims to hunt down "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) elements who attacked the village of Lower Sudaira at midnight on April 12th, al-Shirqat mayor Ali Dawdah told Diyaruna.
The attackers approached the village from al-Naml Mountain east of al-Shirqat, which is part of the Makhoul mountain range, he said.
They infiltrated the village after crossing the Euphrates River, opening fire at houses in the village, but residents and tribal forces repelled the attack.
As they pursued the attackers, four tribal fighters were killed by a roadside bomb, Dawdah said.
The villagers held a funeral for the deceased on April 13th. But during the burial at Sudaira cemetery, two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) exploded among the mourners, killing 21 civilians and wounding 23 others.
The perpetrators had carefully planned their attack, Dawdah said, and had slipped into the cemetery after their attack on the village and planted the IEDs.
The attack bore out "our repeated warnings about the danger posed by remnant ISIS elements", he said.
Continuing threat from ISIS remnants
"There are still [ISIS] remnants hiding in caves and valleys," Dawdah said.
"There may be sleeper cells and incubators providing the terrorists with provisions to help them survive, as well as information and weapons," he added.
Sheikh Asham al-Jubouri, commander of the tribal forces’ 51st Brigade in Salaheddine, announced a campaign to search for the perpetrators of the attacks on Sudaira and destroy extremist hideouts in the Makhoul mountains.
His forces "carry out one or two operations every week in search of ISIS remnants in the mountains east of al-Shirqat, in co-operation with the army’s air force and based on intelligence support", he told Diyaruna.
"There are bands of terrorists hiding in small numbers in those mountains that extend to the Hamreen hills in Diyala," he said. "In most cases we do find their nests, but they quickly escape and disappear in underground tunnels and hideouts."
Al-Jubouri vowed that "the search and pursuit operations will not stop until all the terrorist remnants are eliminated".
"The terrorist attack on the residents of Sudaira was a humanitarian disaster," he said, urging residents to be vigilant and to report any suspicious activity. "This heinous crime will not go unpunished."
'This crime will not weaken our morale'
Sheikh Abdullah al-Jubouri, also known as Sheikh Abu Rasha, said he lost seven family members -- three of his sons, three brothers and a nephew -- in the bombing at Sudaira cemetery.
Six of the victims were civilians and one -- his nephew -- was a soldier who had been spending his regular leave with his family, he said.
"While attending the burial ceremony for the four martyrs killed in the IED bombing on Thursday night, two bombs hidden among rocks in the cemetery blew up amid the mourners, killing the seven members of my family along with 14 mourners, all of whom were village residents," he said.
"This cowardly terrorist attack will only increase our resolve to fight terrorism and defeat its remnant elements," he said.
"This crime will not weaken our morale nor will it cause us to back down from fighting these murderous terrorists," he said. "We are on our path to victory, peace and construction, and our sacrifices are an honour to us."
Al-Jubouri said that all he asks of the government is that it continue its security efforts, uncovering terrorist hideouts and bringing the perpetrators of such crimes to justice.
"Security forces must carry out more security operations to fully purge these areas" of ISIS remnants, he said.
They must also "increase military deployment and provide full support to the tribal fighters to ensure such crimes are not repeated", he added.