Iraq News

Anbar's desert no longer a safe haven for ISIS

By Khalid al-Taie


Members of the Iraqi forces' 10th Infantry Division search houses in remote areas of Anbar's desert to look for any remaining 'Islamic State of Iraq and Syria' pockets in this photo posted online July 31st. [Photo courtesy of the Iraqi Ministry of Defence]

Joint efforts between Iraqi security forces and Anbar tribesmen have nearly eliminated the presence of the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) in Anbar's western desert areas, tribal leaders and local officials say.

Relentless searches, raids and airstrikes have made the desert -- once an ideal hideout for ISIS to regroup and prepare new attacks -- inhospitable to the militant group.

"The desert, especially in western Anbar, was the wellspring of terrorists and their safe haven at the same time," Anbar tribal leader Sheikh Qatari al-Samarmad told Diyaruna.

"In the beginning, the environment there was conducive for ISIS elements to establish bases in large numbers and attack our cities and eventually occupy them [at the end of 2014]," he said.

"After all the cities [of Anbar] were retaken, the terrorists, who were defeated in battle, once again took to the desert to catch their breath and organise their ranks," he said.

"Upon the conclusion of liberation operations, our efforts as tribesmen and security personnel focused on how to prevent those elements from taking advantage of the desert," al-Obaidi said.

"We directed most of our resources over the past months to carrying out large-scale search operations in the desert areas for pockets of terrorists," he said.

"Our duties were characterised by persistence and resolve," he said. "Any complacency or inaction in the conduct of the pursuit campaigns means giving the terrorists a chance to survive."

Purging the desert of ISIS remnants

"We adopted a strategy of constriction and now the joint purge operations carried out by security forces and the tribesmen reached desert villages and remote areas in which no one had set foot before," al-Obaidi said.

Numerous militant dens and hideouts have been destroyed and scores of militants have been killed in raids and airstrikes, he said.

Tribesmen no longer find pockets of terrorists during their searches, indicating that ISIS remnants are on the run, likely taking the risk of crossing the border into Syria where the group still retains some influence, he said.

There are about 250 ISIS fighters still hiding in the desert, particularly in Wadi al-Qathf and Wadi Horan, al-Obaidi said.

"In the past they numbered in the thousands, but today their number has diminished and death surrounds them on all sides," he said.

Joint forces continue to search the desert non-stop, and on July 21st they destroyed three guest houses and one tunnel and detonated 13 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in areas east of Lake Qadisiyah.

On July 23rd, the forces seized a factory used for manufacturing explosives and a rocket launcher left behind by ISIS in the al-Karabla area, east of al-Qaim.

"The desert is no longer the preferred destination for terrorists to hide out of sight from security personnel and the tribesmen," al-Qaim Mayor Ahmed al-Dulaimi told Diyaruna.

"The large number of security operations being carried out there scattered ISIS's remnants and restricted their movement, and their hideouts are coming under fire," he said. "The terrorists have no option other than to die or escape outside the country."

Al-Dulaimi called for continued monitoring of the desert, noting that the improvement of security in the cities of his province is mainly due to the ongoing campaigns to clear the desert areas of the remnants of terrorism.

Security under control

ISIS's loss of the desert is the final and deadliest stab to the body of that terrorist group that is riddled with stab wounds, Rawa Mayor Hussein al-Akidi told Diyaruna.

The purging operations are not limited to the desert areas adjacent to cities, but extend much further into areas near the border with Syria, which serve as security and defence barriers against any infiltration attempt by the terrorists, he said.

"The security situation, both in cities and the desert, is under absolute control by our forces," al-Akidi said, adding that Rawa, which was the last city from which the terrorists were expelled, is working hard like the other liberated cities to turn the page of the war and eliminate all traces of terrorism.

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