Iraqi forces have secured the vast desert that lies between the provinces of Karbala, Najaf and Anbar, a local official told Diyaruna Tuesday (February 4th).
The Middle Euphrates Operations Command has conducted the largest search mission of its kind in the desert straddling the three provinces after intelligence reports indicated attempts by the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) to establish a foothold there, said command media director Brig. Fahim Kareem.
Large units from the federal police, border guard forces and Popular Mobilisation Forces, in co-ordination with the Anbar Operations Command and army aircraft participated in the mission, he said.
"It was launched from eight points around the desert, with military units first combing the desert area extending from the desert of Najaf to the al-Nukhaib area for 130 kilometres," he said.
Then, the area between al-Nukhaib and al-Lassaf -- which extends to the desert of Karbala -- was combed along a stretch of 150 kilometres, in addition to the desert area that extends into Anbar province, he added.
Those areas "were all combed and shepherds and desert residents were fully vetted", said Kareem, adding that all civilian vehicles also were inspected.
"No terrorists or rest-houses were found during the mission, indicating that the desert is secure and our efforts to track down [ISIS] remnants are heading in the right direction," he said.
Monitoring and intelligence efforts in the desert have been stepped up "with the aim of detecting and preventing any activity by ISIS remnants", Kareem said.
"Establishing security in those desert areas tops our priorities because of their strategic location, as they overlook large cities like Najaf and Karbala," he added.
"Our duties are focused on keeping the desert free of terrorists and beefing up the security of all nearby cities and villages," he said.
Combing operations are ongoing, Kareem said, and are now focusing on the areas that stretch from al-Razzaza Lake, southern Anbar, towards the Karbala and Najaf desert areas, up to the administrative borders of al-Diwaniyah province.
"This week, we will conduct another major campaign to clear new desert areas, with the participation of Iraqi fighter jets and helicopters," Kareem said.