Iraq News

ISIS remnants on back foot in former northern Iraq stronghold

By Khalid al-Taie

Members of Iraq's Counter-Terrorism Service take part in a firing exercise on July 3. [Counter-Terrorism Service Facebook page]

Members of Iraq's Counter-Terrorism Service take part in a firing exercise on July 3. [Counter-Terrorism Service Facebook page]

In northern Iraq, where the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) once established its cross-border "caliphate" and conducted a three-year reign of terror, its remnants are scattered and in disarray, Iraqi officials said.

ISIS was pushed out of its de facto capital of Mosul in 2017, and the survivors went into hiding, with sleeper cells continuing to carry out sporadic attacks.

Iraq's Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) has pursued them relentlessly, in co-ordination with the international coalition and Kurdish forces, via a series of operations that have seen 35 ISIS elements killed in the past six months.

Some of the dead have been identified as first-line senior leaders who were responsible for the planning of terrorist attacks, CTS spokesman Sabah al-Numan told Al-Mashareq.

Members of Iraq's Counter-Terrorism Service take part in a security operation in search of ISIS remnants on May 25. [Counter-Terrorism Service Facebook page]

Members of Iraq's Counter-Terrorism Service take part in a security operation in search of ISIS remnants on May 25. [Counter-Terrorism Service Facebook page]

A further 55 ISIS elements were arrested in the first half of this year, he said.

In addition to being unable to move about freely, ISIS elements are having trouble communicating with each other, given the disruption of their leadership, and are operating with vastly constrained resources, Iraqi officials said.

This is a result of the intensive security and intelligence operations being carried out against them, which have tightened the noose around them, they said.

"We are vigilant and monitor any movement by ISIS remnants," al-Numan said. "We have come a long way in terms of tracking them, using both human and technical efforts."

The current assessment of ISIS activities shows its movements are restricted, he said, as the survivors "cannot move from one place to another or communicate with each other because of continuous surveillance of their hiding places".

Most of them are "local elements who lack funding as well as logistical skills, and their numbers are declining as a result of rigorous security operations", al-Numan said.

Targeting ISIS leaders

Iraq's CTS has carried out a series of notable operations targeting ISIS hideouts in the first half of this year.

Among them, a February operation in Wadi Houran, Anbar province, in which 17 ISIS elements were killed, including senior leaders.

During a February operation in Wadi al-Shay, Kirkuk province, the CTS killed three of the group's leaders, including ISIS's "general sharia official" for Kirkuk, Hammoud Ibrahim Ahmed Abdullah al-Jubouri (aka Abu Jaafar).

Also killed were Arkan Izz al-Din Hussein Mohammed al-Jagani (aka Abu Harith and Abu Hajar), a "military official" in al-Dibs district, Kirkuk province, and unit commander Mohammad Khalaf Mohammad Sahel al-Jubouri.

On June 2, three extremists wearing explosive belts were killed in an air-backed operation in Diyala's Hamreen hills -- a well-known hiding place for ISIS remnants that has been the scene of previous air strikes and ambushes.

To keep up pressure on them, the CTS is maintaining high-level co-ordination with security authorities in the Kurdish region, al-Numan said.

Co-ordinated operations have led to the arrest of extremist elements and restored security in the areas between the Kurdish region and territory under federal government control in Ninawa, Kirkuk and Diyala, he said.

In a June 21 statement, CTS said it maintains "high-level co-ordination with Erbil and Sulaimaniyah" that has resulted in a large number of arrests.

Cross-border co-operation

Iraqi forces also help the international coalition pursue ISIS leaders across the border in Syria through the provision of intelligence and co-ordinated security action, Iraqi officials said.

This has led to the successful targeting of top ISIS leaders such as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his successor Abdullah Qardash in Syria.

In April, Khaled Ayed Ahmed al-Jubouri (aka Yacoub al-Muhajir) -- a "hardened terrorist" who operated in Iraq's Ninawa province -- was killed during a co-ordinated operation in Syria's Idlib province.

These security successes are the result of military and intelligence efforts, information exchange and joint co-ordination, said Iraqi military spokesperson Maj. Gen. Yahya Rasul.

There have been very successful operations carried out recently by CTS and other military agencies and units to eradicate ISIS elements who are hiding in the mountains, valleys and desert, he told Al-Mashareq.

Extremist elements are being hunted down wherever they are hiding, Rasul said, no matter how remote or difficult the location is to reach by conventional means.

Security forces have modern monitoring technologies, reconnaissance aircraft and multiple sources of information about the movements of ISIS remnants, he said, making battle with them today primarily an "intelligence battle".

Rasul noted the group's loss of "leadership and centrality" in directing attacks due to the repeated targeting of its leaders with carefully planned operations.

Current operations carried out by CTS forces and military units are focusing on purging ISIS from Ninawa province, the Makhoul mountains, the Qara Chokh mountain range south of Mosul and the Hamreen hills, he said.

These operations also target desert areas in the west of the country extending into Syria, he said, and have been intercepting cross-border infiltrators.

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