Security

Intensive targeting of ISIS underway in Iraq despite coronavirus lockdown

By Khalid al-Taie

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Iraqi soldiers search for ISIS elements in al-Qaraj in northern Iraq where operations targeting members of the group continue in spite of efforts to fight the coronavirus. [Photo courtesy of the Iraqi Ministry of Defence]

Iraqi military officials have confirmed that cracking down on "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) remnants continues at an escalating pace in conjunction with the focus on preventing the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

They said "the movements of terrorists today are much more restricted and they struggle to get the support they need due to the strict measures in place to prevent the spread of the virus".

Iraq has imposed a nationwide curfew starting from March 22nd to April 19th.

The curfew is part of a series of measures approved by the crisis cell that was formed in response to the coronavirus threat, including closing down schools, cafés, public spaces and parks and banning any gatherings.

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Members of the Diyala police hand out food aid to people affected by the curfew that has been in force since March 22nd to prevent the spread of COVID-19. [Photo courtesy of the Diyala Police Command]

The lockdown "has allowed the security forces to hunt down the terrorists and detect and destroy their hideouts in the mountains and deserts".

Joint Operations Command spokesman Maj. Gen. Tahseen al-Khafaji said that along with these preventive measures "our forces have been able to conduct their usual security duties".

Preventing ISIS from regrouping

"The emphasis has been on the importance of preventing the enemy from taking advantage of any exceptional circumstances to regroup," he told Diyaruna.

"Military pressure on the terrorists is intensifying and more focused, especially with the ongoing curfew," he said.

ISIS is facing more severe restrictions than before as the lockdown has left them with only two options: either stay holed up and face dying of hunger or risk coming out and being an easy prey for the security forces.

Al-Khafaji stressed that the lockdown "has greatly undermined terrorist activities and movements, resulting in heavy loss of life as their hideouts continue to be targeted from the air and ground".

An airstrike conducted by Iraqi fighter jets on March 21st on an ISIS hideout in the Hamreen mountains in Diyala province has killed dozens of ISIS elements, he said.

Iraqi operations targeting terrorists have not been affected by the coronavirus and they continue to achieve significant results, said Salaheddine Operations Command media director Brig. Gen. Firas Bashar Sabri.

"We have recently conducted large scale search operations for terrorists in several mountainous and desert locations, the latest of which was in al-Jazeera region in western Salaheddine province," he told Diyaruna.

These missions were bolstered by the lockdown measures and restriction of movement, he said.

Fighting ISIS while preventing virus spread

In addition to its counter-terrorism tasks, the Salaheddine command is also helping implement all the decisions issued by the crisis cell to stem the spread of COVID-19 and ensure the safety of citizens, Sabri said.

Security forces are participating in efforts to fumigate and sterilise residential areas, raise awareness about the virus and provide food aid to the poor.

Meanwhile, security forces in Diyala province, led by the police force, are implementing a plan to prevent ISIS from benefiting from any opportunity to influence the security situation in the province.

Diyala police command spokesman Brig. Gen. Nihad al-Mahdawi said the plan focuses on two parallel tracks. The first is to "intensify attacks and pre-emptive security operations against ISIS in order to thwart their plans and any attempt to take advantage of the current challenges associated with the pandemic".

The second track involves "continuing with the co-ordination and collective efforts of all relevant institutions and organisations to implement measures to protect civilians from the danger of the coronavirus", he told Diyaruna.

These include providing food aid to needy families and conducting sterilisation campaigns.

Diyala security leaders "continue to meet and discuss ways to effectively manage the pandemic while maintaining pressure on the terrorists", he said.

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