In Global, Rudaw

Iraq is in ‘close coordination’ with multiple Syrian authorities to defeat ISIS

Baghdad continues to work with both the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and government in Damascus to exchange information and intelligence about remaining Islamic State (ISIS) members in the adjacent countries.

Maj. Gen. Tahsin Khafaji, spokesman for Iraq’s Joint Operation Command, told Rudaw on Tuesday that the Iraqi government is in close coordination with neighboring Syria in “two ways.”

“First with the SDF through the US-led coalition, to exchange intelligence and information regarding the ISIS prisoners in SDF prisons,” Khafaji said. “Second with Damascus, as Iraq is part of the operation room that the Syrian Defense ministry established to share intelligence and information against ISIS.”

The “operation room” coalition is composed of four countries, namely Iran, Russia, Iraq and Syria.

The coalition between the four countries was established in September 2015, to cooperate in gathering information useful in the fight against ISIS.

At the height of its power between 2014 and 2016, ISIS controlled an area roughly the size of Great Britain, spread across Iraq and Syria.  The group was declared defeated in Iraq in December 2017. However, a  spate of attacks, kidnappings, and ambushes suggest an insurgency is already underway.

According to an intelligence assessment by the Center for Global Policy, ISIS has 3,500 to 4,000 active and 8,000 inactive militants in Iraq.

ISIS has been held responsible for a spate of attacks on the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and units of Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), also known as Hashd al-Shaabi.

Late on Friday, the PMF said four of its fighters were killed and six injured in an ISIS attack in northern Diyala.

In a statement on Thursday evening, the PMF said its units had come under attack in Khanaqin, Jurf al-Nasr (formally known as Jurf al-Sakhar) and on the Syrian-Iraqi border in the Akashat area of western Anbar.

On Friday the Iraqi defense ministry said two soldiers were killed and four wounded when their convoy hit an IED in northern Baghdad  province. ISIS later claimed responsibility for the blast.

These follow a spate of attacks in early May, the deadliest of which saw ten PMF fighters killed in a five-pronged assault in Saladin on May 2.

On the same day, militants killed three federal police officers and wounded two others in an attack on Zaghniya police station in Diyala province.

The disputed territories between the federal government and KRG have been a safe haven for ISIS remnants to move around freely.

Jabar Yawar, chief of staff at the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs, warned earlier in April that the ISIS resurgence has been underway for some time.

“According to our data, the group increased its activities in 2018 and  2019, especially in Kurdistani areas outside of the Kurdistan Region  administration, including Diyala, Hamrin, Kirkuk, Tuz Khurmatu, and Qarachogh. In Qarachogh, they even established bases,” Yawar told Rudaw.

Regarding military coordination between KRG and Baghdad, Khafaji added that “Baghdad is also in close coordination with Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to conduct military operations and protect the Iraqi-Syrian border from ISIS militants who sneak into Iraq through  Syria.”

ISIS claimed in a new Thursday that its militants had carried out 42 attacks in Iraq between May 7 and 13 alone – almost half of them in Diyala.

The latest Pentagon Inspector General report, covering January 1 to March 31, said ISIS remnants are “regrouping and reforming” and seeking to “re-establish governance in northern and western areas of Iraq.”

According to the Pentagon report, Diyala has seen the highest  frequency of attacks over the first quarter of the year – 80 of the 250 total. The Diyala towns of Baqubah and Khanaqin suffered the  deadliest attacks.

Other attacks were reported in the provinces of Anbar, Kirkuk,  Nineveh, and Saladin.

Iraq’s former defense minister Najah al-Shammari said in April the  government would “ramp up” anti-ISIS efforts to prevent the group  capitalizing on the coronavirus crisis. Mustafa al-Kadhimi, the new  prime minister, has made combating ISIS a cornerstone of his  government’s agenda.

In an effort to purge the group from isolated regions of Anbar, Nineveh, and Saladin, the Iraqi army on Sunday launched an operation entitled Lions of al-Jazeera.

The operation, spread over several days, is being conducted by Iraqi army units, the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), also known as Hashd  al-Shaabi, and Sunni tribal fighters known as Hashd al-Ahsairi. They are accompanied by Iraqi warplanes.

In recent days, ISIS militants have also resumed a previously used tactic of torching crop fields. The group has claimed responsibility for recent arson attacks in Diyala and Mosul provinces. Source