Where is ISIS’s new stronghold in Iraq?

ISIS’s sporadic attacks in Iraq have once again caused disaster and drawn public attention to the dangers of the terrorist group’s remnants in the country. According to security officials in the Iraqi Kurdistan region, on Friday ISIS fighters kidnapped three people in a village on the outskirts of Erbil, then in an ambush by Kurdish security forces, 13 dead.

AhlulBayt News Agency (ABNA): ISIS’s sporadic attacks in Iraq have once again caused disaster and drawn public attention to the dangers of the terrorist group’s remnants in the country. According to security officials in the Iraqi Kurdistan region, on Friday ISIS fighters kidnapped three people in a village on the outskirts of Erbil, then in an ambush by Kurdish security forces, 13 dead.

Although with the sacrifices made by the Popular Mobilization Forces (FMP), a force of volunteer fighters was created in 2014 in response to a fatwa by the great Shiite cleric in Iraq Sayed Ali al-Sistani, the self-proclaimed caliphate of Iraq. ‘ISIS was in 2017, its sleeper cells remain in the provinces of Diyala, Kirkuk, Nineveh, Salahaddin, Al-Anbar and Baghdad.

The Makhmur Mountains, ISIS stronghold in Iraq

Terrorist actions in these areas range from attacks on infrastructure such as power grids and the destruction of farms, to the destabilization of intra-provincial roads, to kidnappings, extortion, sectarian violence and the occasional attacks on local people. army and security forces posts, as well as bombing raids.

In the meantime, the significant problem is the existence of security loopholes in areas where ISIS elements have been able to turn them into safe havens for their recruitment and training activities, as well as villainous actions. Friday’s attack is the fourth in a week against Kurdish Peshmerga forces in the autonomous region.

In recent weeks, ISIS elements have stepped up their operations in Kirkuk and Diyala provinces, sources claiming similar actions have been carried out in neighboring Nineveh province to a lesser extent. A large-scale attack on the village of al-Khattab in the town of Qayyarah southeast of Nineveh in early September, which left 11 people dead, drew Baghdad’s attention to the resurgent threat from ISIS.

Interestingly, the main areas of ISIS presence and activity are the so-called “contested areas” under the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Erbil captured Kirkuk and most of ISIS’s other disputed areas in 2015, but following a dispute over the referendum on the separation of Kurdistan organized by the KRG in 2019, the army of Baghdad and the PMF took control of Kirkuk and other contentious areas, reversing all Kurdish gains.

Local sources refer to the “Hamrin Mountains” and the “Qara Chukh” mountain range in the southern Kirkuk and Diyala provinces as ISIS’s most important bases and hiding places in the mountains. Qara Chukh is a large mountain range located in the town of Makhmur southeast of Nineveh, and with a length of around 65 kilometers, it is one of the longest mountain ranges in Iraq after Qandil, Hamrin, Hesar-i Rost and Zagros.

The highest peak of Qara Chukh measures 2,100 meters and has 9 heights, each with a different name and villages such as Dari, Zood and Tafan. It is characterized by rocky terrain and the abundance of caves, shelters and mountain trails where it is difficult for civilian and military vehicles to move forward. Military officials in Baghdad have confirmed that Qara Chukh Mountain, straddling the Kurdistan region and Nineveh province and classified as a Baghdad-Erbil territorial conflict area, has become a new haven for ISIS. It is believed that some elements of the group recently entered Iraq from Syria and took refuge in the mountains as temporary shelter.

The mountain range contains caves, some natural and others recently dug by ISIS, as well as deep valleys and vegetation.

Experts believe that ISIS’s long-term presence in much of Qara Chukh means strengthening the mountainous region as a defensive stronghold, and therefore the cleanup and control process should no longer be delayed, as this could constitute a threat to all Iraqi security.

Military experts and Iraqi officials also believe that ISIS has changed its offensive strategies, and now the most important thing for it is to appear in more than one area to disrupt the focus of the military and the military. security services.

the security coordination needs of Baghdad-Erbil; United States seeks to fish in troubled waters

Friday’s attack sparked massive backlash from Iraqi politicians. Meanwhile, what has been most emphasized is the need for Baghdad and Erbil to strengthen their cooperation and coordination in the contested areas for an effective fight against ISIS. Kurdish Prime Minister Masrour Barzani, for example, called for broader security cooperation with Iraqi security forces to control terrorist activity.

In fact, the existence of security loopholes in disputed areas is a driving force behind IS’s new impetus. Iraqi retired Colonel Saad al-Hadithi, who is also a security expert, told the Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed news site that one of the main reasons the mountains have become the focus Islamic State and its shelters is that they are located in the disputed areas. . ISIS and other terrorist groups in Iraq, al-Hadithi continued, have benefited from the Baghdad-Erbil dispute since 2003.

A significant problem amid ISIS’s new attacks is the US attempt to take advantage of the troubled security situation in Iraq. According to an agreement with Baghdad, Washington must close its bases in Iraq and withdraw all its forces. But recent positions expressed by US officials have expressed no willingness on the part of White House officials to implement the deal. The attacks that suspiciously coincide with the last days and weeks of the US presence in Iraq have provided Washington with an excuse to announce that it is ready to continue its security cooperation with Baghdad and Erbil.

What Iraq needs in its fight against ISIS, more than fictitious military support from the United States, is intelligence, operational coordination, and cooperation between its various armed forces. The determination of Erbil’s leaders is particularly necessary for the implementation of this roadmap.

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