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Iraq tightens western border security as ISIS faces defeats in Syria

By Khalid al-Taie

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Iraqi patrol forces monitor the border with Syria in early October 2018. [Photo courtesy of the Border Guard Command]

The noose is tightening around the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) in areas along the Iraqi border, as the group is cornered by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on the Syrian side of the border and by Iraqi and tribal forces in Iraq.

The SDF have surrounded ISIS militants in Hajin, a small border area in rural Deir Ezzor province in eastern Syria, one of ISIS's final holdouts in the country.

Military pressure against ISIS has been relentless since September 11th when the SDF announced they have begun the final phase of Operation al-Jazeera Storm to oust ISIS from Deir Ezzor and al-Hasakeh.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the border, Iraqi forces and Anbar tribes have stepped up their monitoring and pursuit efforts to prevent the militants from infiltrating into Iraq.

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Iraqi field officers inspect the border area with Syria to prevent the infiltration of ISIS elements. [Photo courtesy of the Border Guard Command]

More stringent measures

Iraqi officials have started implementing more stringent plans and measures to fortify the border in conjunction with the SDF's effort to rout ISIS from Hajin.

"[Tribal] and security forces are ready and on alert for any development," said Col. Mousa Hamad al-Sanad, commander of the Upper Euphrates tribal forces.

"Pursuit operations covering vast desert areas north of the Euphrates river have been ongoing almost nonstop for about a month," he told Diyaruna.

These border areas extend to the Hajin desert and the Syrian areas of Sousa, Baghuz and al-Marashidah, around which fierce fighting is taking place that has so far resulted in the killing of hundreds of ISIS militants at the hands of the SDF, al-Sanad said.

Taking part in the pursuit operations are forces from the al-Jazeera and Anbar operations commands, the Iraqi Army’s 8th Division, the Border Guard Force and tribal forces with aerial cover from the Iraqi and international coalition aircraft.

The most recent of these operations was the Last Warning Operation launched October 7th to search for ISIS remnants in the Upper Euphrates desert, destroy their hideouts and protect the border.

"Military units have been heavily deployed on the border with Syria along a line stretching 200 kilometres from north of Albu Kamal to the Tal Safuk area [in al-Hasakeh province]," al-Sanad said.

"The blocking lines are impenetrable and there are watchtowers equipped with thermal cameras to monitor suspicious movements, barbed wire, fixed and mobile border checkpoints and pilotless drones," he said.

"With these measures in place in conjunction with the [continued] security operations, it is now difficult -- and rather almost impossible -- for terrorists to breach the border," he said.

"There have been no breaches since about a month ago, and this is indicative of the robustness of our efforts," he added.

Border strip 'graveyard for terrorists'

Attempts by ISIS to infiltrate the border "are now futile, and in every instance the attempt is thwarted and the terrorists are dealt a painful blow", said Anbar provincial council member Karim al-Karbouli.

The last failed infiltration attempt took place on September 19th, when Iraqi forces backed by the coalition killed 15 militants hiding in a cave in the Akashat border area, he told Diyaruna.

"Our forces are well prepared to carry out their duties and are very active in striking terrorist targets and intercepting cross-border infiltrations," said al-Karbouli.

Border strip areas on both the Iraqi and Syrian sides "have become a graveyard for terrorists as a result of the attacks and heavy bombardment by international coalition forces", he said.

Unprecedented search operations

"The mobilisation and precautionary measures on the border with Syria are necessary," said Ahrar al-Furat party chairman Sheikh Abdullah al-Jughaifi, former commander of the Anbar tribal mobilisation forces.

"The SDF are advancing against ISIS elements and have wrested large chunks of territory from them in eastern Syria and they now have them surrounded at the border," he told Diyaruna.

"This is a positive development in the course of the war on terror, but it necessitates that our units take greater precautions to ensure that ISIS elements do not find safe passageways to escape to our territory," he said.

The desert in western Anbar, particularly the al-Jazeera areas north of the Euphrates, have been seeing unprecedented search and purge operations, al-Jughaifi said, stressing that the border has been tightly secured with a large deployment of troops and military hardware.

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