ISIS threat forces families to flee previously secured areas
By Khalid al-Taie
The displacement crisis in Iraq has seen a significant decline as a result of improved security in areas liberated from the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS), experts told Diyaruna.
Still, some areas are witnessing "reverse displacement" largely due to the renewed threat posed by ISIS remnants, they said.
"Reverse displacement" happens when displaced people who had already returned to their homes, find themselves forced to flee again.
Iraq's Independent High Commission for Human Rights said it has documented in 2019 the displacement of 250 families from eastern Diyala province as a result of threats by ISIS remnants.
The families are residents of remote villages in Khanaqeen district and near the Hamreen basin, said Fadel al-Gharawi, who serves on the commission.
Residents returning to their villages have been forced to leave once again and go back to the camps or to other safe places "as they are afraid that ISIS might step up its activity and launch surprise attacks", he told Diyaruna.
"These towns and villages border rugged terrain and vast agricultural lands," he said, noting that ISIS remnants maintain a presence there.
They are always trying to take advantage of security gaps to escalate attacks against the civilian population, which in some cases results in "reverse displacement", he said.
Iraqi forces launched the eighth phase of the "Will of Victory" security campaign on December 29th that included the provinces of Diyala, Salaheddine, Kirkuk, Ninawa and Anbar.
In Diyala, the army's 5th Division, local police and Rapid Response Division searched several villages on the outskirts of Khanaqeen, the mountains of Hamreen, Lake al-Atheem and the orchards of Abi Sayda and al-Nidaa.
The operation resulted in the death of nine suicide bombers and the destruction of 58 hideouts and tunnels and a watch tower.
A bomb factory, 223 explosive devices, a mortar shell, an anti-tank missile and 250 kilogrammes of C-4 explosives, were also destroyed.
'Handful of gangs'
ISIS elements "are broken and in poor spirits as a result of the huge security pressure", said Haitham al-Hom, a sheikh from the Diyala tribes.
"The army, police, tribes and other intelligence and security agencies are hunting them down everywhere," he told Diyaruna, noting that ISIS attacks are no more than "breaches" aimed at scaring the local population.
It's true that families in certain areas of eastern Diyala, especially in the villages of al-Zor, Sheikh Baba and al-Waqf and the outskirts of Khanaqeen, have been forcibly displaced because of ISIS's attacks, he said.
The latest attack occurred on December 30th when a sniper killed a soldier in al-Nidaa.
Al-Hom stressed, however, that "reverse displacement" remains limited, as "military operations are undermining the activities of terrorist elements and preventing them from realising their dream of regaining a foothold".
According to the Iraqi Ministry of Migration, the number of families who have returned to Diyala province is close to 14,000.
The displacement crisis is generally on its way to being resolved throughout most provinces that have suffered from the scourge of terrorism, security analyst Safaa al-Aasam told Diyaruna.
ISIS remnants who have forced several families to be displaced once again are nothing more than "a handful of gangs that are using hit-and-run tactics and surprise attacks to undermine the security effort and create a false impression that they are making a strong comeback", he said.
Operations against ISIS hideouts are ongoing as part of the "Will of Victory" security campaign, said al-Aasam, adding that elite forces and intelligence units are performing their duties to a "high standard".