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Iraqi forces carry out new plan to secure Kirkuk-Baghdad highway

By Khalid al-Taie

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Federal policemen inspect the papers of a driver at a checkpoint on the Kirkuk-Baghdad highway. [Photo courtesy of the Federal Police Command]

Iraqi security forces have begun implementing a new plan to protect the Kirkuk-Baghdad highway in light of recent attacks carried out by "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) remnants.

Efforts are focused on putting "a conclusive end to these violations", Kirkuk provincial council security committee chairman Burhan al-Assi told Diyaruna Friday (June 22nd).

These incidents are "part of the terrorists' attempt to spread public fear and promote an exaggerated image of their operations and presence, which is now of the past", he said.

"There is no terrorist escalation; rather, these are limited incidents that are the work of small groups of cowardly terrorists who only dare to move in the dark," he added.

On June 17th, ISIS elements set up an ambush on the Kirkuk-Baghdad highway, killing three people, including an officer, near the Anjana area in Hamreen, Diyala province.

In a following attack the same day, ISIS elements kidnapped six men from the same family who were riding a civilian vehicle on their way to Erbil.

Closing gaps

One of the plan's key measures is to ramp up security campaigns to track sleeper cells in remote areas along the road.

These areas are open and feature rugged terrain that provides extremists an opportunity to launch surprise attacks and then quickly retreat into hiding, al-Assi said.

"Efforts to combat sleeper cells there continue unabated," he said, stressing that increasing pursuit and tracking operations "is necessary in order to dry out the sources of terrorism".

Iraqi forces have beefed up military deployment to close the gaps and passageways militants use to access the Kirkuk–Baghdad highway, he said.

These passageways are irregular roads that are not under security control, he explained.

The plan also stipulates increased co-ordination between the police and army forces responsible for protecting the highway, and the establishment of a special operations room to more efficiently manage security.

The highway will also be secured through air cover consisting of drones and routine air patrols that will monitor desert areas.

"Terrorist incidents on the road often occur outside the administrative borders of Kirkuk province, especially in areas close to the Hamreen hills," al-Assi said.

Kirkuk city enjoys stability today thanks to the Counter-Terrorism Service’s efforts to impose security, he said, "but areas in the west and south of the province are still seeing ISIS remnants' activity".

"Federal Police forces are exerting great effort to search remote villages and attack militants’ hotspots and sleeper cells," he added.

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