Iraqi forces will embark on "major" security operations to eliminate remnants of the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) in the desert in western Anbar, a tribal leader said Monday (February 10th).
"ISIS elements are trying to regroup and rebuild their ranks in different parts of the country, especially in the Anbar desert," Col. Mousa Hamad al-Sanad, head of the Upper Euphrates tribal forces, told Diyaruna.
They have taken advantage of the Iraqi forces' preoccupation with securing the popular protests that have rocked the country since October.
Additionally, the suspension of international coalition counter-terror activities for three weeks and the reduced pace of efforts to track down and strike terrorists have emboldened the remnants of the group, al-Sanad said.
The international coalition on January 5th announced it was freezing its anti-ISIS campaign in Iraq for security reasons after a spate of rocket attacks on bases where its forces are stationed.
On January 30th, the coalition said it has resumed its operations with the Iraqi forces.
Terrorist acts such as the kidnapping and killing of civilians or kidnapping for ransom have increased over the last three weeks, al-Sanad said.
Those acts have targeted shepherds and Bedouins, most notably in the desert near the town of al-Rutba in western Anbar, he said, possibly in retaliation for their co-operation with security forces or to force them to co-operate with ISIS.
Security and tribal forces are currently conducting "extensive checks of shepherds in order to verify their identities, especially as the information available to us indicates that the terrorists have taken to disguising themselves as shepherds to avoid detection", he added.
Not a viable threat
The militants' activities, despite having escalated, are "still operations run by only small groups" aiming to draw the spotlight to their attacks, al-Sanad said.
"Our forces are preparing to launch major security operations during the month of February," he said. "The operations will be different in that they will cover vast geographical areas and extend to isolated areas that have never before been reached."
"We are fully prepared to start these operations, whose main objective will be to completely end the ISIS remnants' presence in the desert," al-Sanad stressed.
The new operations will enhance border security, as ISIS has recently boosted its deployment along the border strip on the Syrian side, taking advantage of the insufficient numbers of Syrian troops deployed there, he said.
"This has added to the burden on our security forces, which today bear a greater responsibility in keeping the border secure," he said.
"ISIS remnants have tried to infiltrate the border several times since the beginning of the year," al-Sanad said.
"Their biggest operation was in the middle of [January], when they attacked Iraqi border police guard posts from deep inside Syrian territory with heavy weapons," he said.
"Their attack was thwarted and they were forced to flee, but it killed two police personnel and wounded others," he added.