Iraqi forces clear Diyala orchards of ISIS remnants
By Khalid al-Taie
The Diyala Operations Command announced March 1st that its forces have fully cleared Diyala's orchards of "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) remnants.
On February 21st, Iraqi forces had launched a large scale four-day campaign to look for ISIS remnants and hideouts in several orchards in the province.
Large military units from the 5th Military Division, Diyala Police and air force, as well as tribal forces participated in the campaign, Diyala Operations Commander Maj. Gen. Abdul Muhsin al-Abbasi said.
"We first laid our plans and identified the targets and then combed and raided the orchards where, according to our intelligence, there was terrorist activity," he told Diyaruna.
The orchards that were raided include al-Makhisa, Abu Karma, Jalabi, al-Kubba, al-Sheikhi, Albu Hayed and al-Waqf basin, which are located in the towns of al-Adhim, Abi Saida and al-Abbara in northern Diyala.
The campaign involved "combing through vast agricultural areas to find terrorist members and cells hiding there", al-Abbasi said.
This resulted in "the death of three terrorists with air support from the army, the arrest of suspects, the destruction of guesthouses and the confiscation of several improvised explosive devices [IEDs] and weapons", he added.
According to security reports, five ISIS guesthouses that were used for hiding were destroyed.
"A small number of terrorists were hiding in the orchards and with the start of the offensive, most had fled," he said. "But we will hunt them down wherever they go and crush them."
"The orchards are completely terrorist free and we have succeeded in fully cleansing and securing them," al-Abbasi said.
"We deployed our units everywhere and have set up checkpoints and defence lines," he noted, stressing that the situation is "reassuring".
Increasing citizen co-operation
Security forces opened roads and passageways almost three kilometres deep into the orchards to enforce security there and facilitate the movement of military vehicles.
Forces were deployed to areas that they had not set foot in for a number of years.
Ahmed Razzouqi, a member of the Diyala provincial council, said the orchards present an ideal hideout for terrorists since crops and vegetation hinder aerial detection and prevent armoured vehicles from moving deep into them.
"Although small in number, these [ISIS] elements are a source of danger," he told Diyaruna. "Some are snipers, and others plant IEDs in agricultural roads or fire mortars from the orchards towards nearby villages."
"What set the latest campaign apart is that it cleansed large areas of the orchards, while also allowing the security forces to hold the territory, which is critical in preventing terrorists from returning," he said.
Razzouqi also praised the local population for their support and high level of co-operation with the security forces.
"The government is seeking to give residents of agricultural villages a chance to contribute toward preserving security," Diyala provincial council chairman Ali al-Dayni said.
"Security authorities in Baghdad have pledged to give 100 jobs in the army and police for residents of these villages and to deploy them as part of units responsible for securing the orchards," he told Diyaruna.
Al-Dayni underscored the importance of this move in closing the security gaps that extremists use to access and control agricultural areas.