Small, scattered cells of "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) remnants have been attacking remote villages in Diyala province, though security officials tell Diyaruna they are determined to eliminate the group's last holdouts.
Most attacks have been carried out in the dark of night by ISIS cells taking advantage of the remoteness of the villages and the paucity of security personnel.
"The terrorist attacks hit many remote villages in Diyala, leaving a large number of casualties and displacing dozens of citizens," Diyala provincial council member Hoshyar Ismail told Diyaruna.
The most recent wave of displacement occurred in the Kurdish village of Mardan on the outskirts of Khanaqin district, north of Diyala, he said.
"Mardan and nearby villages on the outskirts of Khanaqin, Jalawla and Qara Tabbah districts have come under more than 40 attacks in less than 10 months, resulting in a number of deaths," he said.
Ismail said these areas are vulnerable to attacks due to the sparse security presence, as army and police forces are concentrated in city centres, leaving outlying roads and remote villages and towns unprotected.
With these "scattered attacks", embattled ISIS remnants are trying to assert their presence and send a message that the group is still active, Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasul told Diyaruna.
But this cannot change the truth, he said, which is that since its military defeat, ISIS is no longer capable of engaging Iraqi forces.
"Security forces and the intelligence effort are hunting down the group’s remnants and striking them on the outskirts of Diyala, Kirkuk and Salaheddine," he said.
The Vengeance for the Martyrs operation, carried out by operations commands in the three provinces, targeted ISIS remnants and dens in those areas, he said.
"Terrorist challenges exist on the ground, but that said, Iraqi security forces have not been and will not be negligent in carrying out their duty to eliminate the remnants of terrorism," Rasul stressed.
They intend to secure all remote villages and towns, even though this will require some time and more popular support for the Iraqi military, he added.
Targeting ISIS remnants
The perpetrators of these isolated attacks are "misguided Iraqis who had pledged allegiance to ISIS when it controlled cities and fled to the mountains and remote areas after its defeat", said military analyst Safaa al-Aasam.
He estimated that "around 600 ISIS elements fled north to remote and mountainous areas" after the liberation battles.
Iraqi forces have intelligence information on most of those fighters, he said, and are targeting their hiding places on the outskirts of Kirkuk, Salaheddine and Diyala provinces and in the Hamrin basin.
They also are hunting down ISIS elements along the Kirkuk-Baghdad road, which runs through Tuz Khurmato in Salaheddine province and the cities of Diyala, al-Aasam said.
"The continuous military operations against these groups have resulted in striking several of their dens and seizure of 16 weapon depots, in addition to the killing and arrest of a number of them," he said.
But Iraqi forces still need time to reach all the group’s remnants, he said.