Provinces north of Baghdad have been seeing an uptick in activity by the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) as the group seeks to create a media stir amid ongoing protests in the country, analysts and officials told Diyaruna.
But despite the recent spate of attacks on security forces, the group will not be able to regain any control or regroup, they said.
Two policemen were killed December 15th when ISIS elements opened fire on a federal police vehicle in Wadi Zghaitoun in the southern part of al-Riyadh neighbourhood in Kirkuk.
A day later, five soldiers were killed and five others were wounded as a result of two armed attacks in eastern Diyala province.
And on December 12th, an attack targeting Iraqi forces at a military site near the city of Samarra killed seven and wounded three.
An hour later, four Iraqi forces were killed and four were wounded in another attack by a suicide bomber driving a vehicle at a military site near Samarra.
As a result of these attacks, security forces hunted down ISIS remnants and destroyed their hideouts.
Intensive security operations
Security forces have "responded firmly to the latest escalation involving several terrorist attacks", security analyst Sarmad al-Bayati told Diyaruna.
After the conclusion of the seventh phase of the 'Will of Victory' security campaign, which achieved significant results, ISIS elements ramped up their attacks on security checkpoints in an attempt to take advantage of bad weather conditions, he said.
"Iraqi forces responded by conducting large-scale search operations," he said, and additional forces were sent as reinforcement in the areas where the security breaches occurred.
On December 16th, the Diyala police and army forces launched a three-day joint security operation, dubbed "Avenging the Martyrs", to track down ISIS remnants and destroy their hideouts.
The federal police conducted search operations in south-western Kirkuk and the Ninawa Operations Command launched search campaigns in southern Mosul.
The al-Jazeera Operations Command also launched search operations in Wadi Horan and al-Hussainiyat in southern al-Qaim in western Anbar on December 19th in collaboration with local tribes and with air cover from the Iraqi air force and the international coalition.
ISIS elements are focused in these areas, which extend from Hatra, Makhoul mountains, al-Hawijah and Samarra Island, all the way to the Hamreen hills and al-Waqf areas in eastern Diyala as well as western Anbar, said al-Bayati.
"In spite of the intensive security efforts there, some terrorists have been able to escape the security forces by exploiting the area's topography that allows them to move secretly and mount surprise attacks," he said.
But they remain weak and their activities can be characterised as guerrilla warfare in an effort to "stir a media frenzy through cowardly acts of terrorism", he stressed.
ISIS seeks to exploit protests
ISIS has no real military or combat capabilities left and its latest operations "prove its weakness and cowardice as it is only able to attack in remote areas and inclement weather conditions", security expert Jalil Khalaf told Diyaruna.
"Terrorists think they will be able to regain their strength and restore the control they had a few years ago, but this is a mere fantasy," he said.
"It is impossible for them to achieve any progress and their attacks are nothing more than cowardly acts," he added.
Iraqi forces are in control and have increased capability and expertise that they have gained from previous battles with ISIS, he said.
"They will not allow any gap or security breach to occur, which ISIS is counting on in light of the ongoing demonstrations in the country," he said.
Khalaf stressed that these demonstrations "have not affected the performance of the security and military institutions", adding that security forces are still fully carrying out their duties to hunt down the terrorists.
Meanwhile, Salaheddine provincial council security committee member Abd Sultan Issa al-Jubouri called on security forces to "exercise caution and prepare in advance to thwart terrorist plans".
ISIS elements have been dealt painful blows but they have not been completely eliminated, he told Diyaruna, as they still exist in small groups that sporadically conduct attacks against security forces and civilians.
"In order to prevent these operations, our forces should continue to attack ISIS and target their hideouts while remaining alert to any offensive terrorist movements and activities," he said.