In Rudaw 

Security vacuum in disputed territories still hotspot for ISIS activity, says Iraqi military spokesperson

The Islamic State (ISIS) remains a threat in Iraq, especially in the security vacuum in areas disputed between Erbil and Baghdad, a top military spokesperson has told Rudaw.

“An important point is there are kilometers where there is no security force from neither Iraq nor the Kurdistan Region, and it has become a hotspot for ISIS,” Yehia Rasool said in a roundtable discussion held by Rudaw research center on Thursday.

Rasool also emphasized that the threat of ISIS still remains serious and deemed cooperation with the Peshmerga forces as important.

The Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs secretary general warned earlier in February that ISIS is still a major threat.

“We have said this many times. ISIS is still a threat to the region because of the terrorist attacks they conduct,” Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs secretary general Jabar Yawar told Rudaw’s Sangar Abdulrahman on February 9. “What ISIS lost in 2017 when then-Prime Minister of Iraq Haidar al-Abadi announced their defeat, was only their alleged caliphate, but ISIS is still out there conducting attacks.”

Peshmerga forces were deployed to parts of the disputed territories earlier this month because of an increased threat of ISIS attacks.

According to data provided by Yawar, in disputed areas outside the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) administration, ISIS conducted 230 attacks in 2020 alone, during which 812 people were either killed, injured, or kidnapped.

ISIS sleeper cells are particularly active in parts of northern and western Iraq that are disputed by Erbil and Baghdad, including in the provinces of Kirkuk, Diyala and Salahaddin, where they exploit a security vaccum void of both Kurdish and federal Iraqi forces.

Three members of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF, or Hashd al-Shaabi in Arabic) were killed and five others wounded by ISIS in overnight clashes in Diyala province on Thursday morning, the PMF’s media office announced.

“In January alone, ISIS has conducted 14 attacks and 150 people have been killed and injured,” Yawar said, emphasizing that the reason for the high number of attacks were security gaps because of territorial disputes between Erbil and Baghdad.

Though ISIS was declared territorially defeated in Iraq in December 2017, remnants of the group continue to conduct attacks in the country.
On Thursday, ISIS claimed in its weekly propaganda newspaper al-Naba that it had killed and injured at least 21 people  in 13 attacks in Iraq from February 11 to February 17.

The US-led Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh (ISIS), in the area since 2015, has maintained a presence to train and advise local forces in the fight against the extremist group.

ISIS claimed responsibility for a deadly double suicide bombing in Baghdad’s Tayaran Square last month, which killed 32 people and injured 100. Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi had vowed to crack down on ISIS after the attack, with two militants connected to the bombings killed in “Operation Revenge of the Martyrs” on February 2.

Coalition spokesperson Colonel Wayne Marotto also spoke to Rudaw Research Center of the coalition’s continuous support for the Iraqi military and Peshmerga forces, and said that working to fight ISIS in the security vacuum is one of its top priorities.