ISIS seeking a comeback in Iraq

Iraqi military officials said ISIS militants were trying to get into Anbar province through Syria.
Sunday 25/03/2018
An Iraqi forces’ tank faces an ISIS mural in the city of al-Qaim in Iraq’s western Anbar province near the Syrian border. (AFP)
Lurking in the shadows. An Iraqi forces’ tank faces an ISIS mural in the city of al-Qaim in Iraq’s western Anbar province near the Syrian border. (AFP)

LONDON - Despite declaring victory against the Islamic State (ISIS) in December, Iraq continues to suffer from terror attacks by the group, leading to fears the militants are attempting to regroup.

Civilian deaths in acts of violence have reportedly been lower in the past three months than on average since 2012 but the casualty figures are still high considering that ISIS is supposed to have been crushed.

Figures published by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) stated that 91 Iraqi civilians died in acts of terrorism, violence and armed conflict in February. The most affected governorates were Baghdad (49 killed), Anbar (14) and Diyala (12).

UNAMI said the figures must be considered as the absolute minimum of civilian casualties.

The numbers do not include members of the army, government-sanctioned militias and the police killed on duty. Last month, 27 Shia militiamen died in an attack in Kirkuk province. Attacks against civilians and the military continued in March.

Civilian fatalities reported by UNAMI in December (69) and January (119) were a far cry from the 1,775 peak in June 2014 when ISIS captured Mosul.

Observers, however, said they were witnessing an attempt by ISIS militants to regroup.

“The fact that [ISIS] still has the ability and opportunity to launch attacks is worrying, especially after the overwhelming defeat they have suffered during the last year; they have clearly adapted to their new circumstances,” wrote Mustafa Habib on the website Niqash.org

Iraqi military officials confirmed that ISIS was planning a comeback.

“[ISIS] is trying to regroup in the eastern and northern parts of the city [of Diyala] but joint security forces — from the army, the police and the militias — have chased them off,” Mizher al-Azzawi, a senior commander in Diyala, told Niqash.org.

Sneak in from Syria

Iraqi military officials said ISIS militants were trying to get into Anbar province through Syria, where the group also appears to be trying to re-emerge.

Infiltration attempts into Iraq are likely to continue amid security concerns over ISIS fighters in Syria. In February, a small number of ISIS detainees escaped from a prison run by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

“The fact that escape is possible has underscored the security worries. There have been urgent and growing concerns inside the US military and intelligence community about the security arrangements for hundreds of foreign ISIS fighters being held by the Syrian Democratic Forces,” CNN reported.

An additional worry is whether the SDF would strike another deal with ISIS, such as the one in which Kurdish-led forces allowed hundreds of ISIS fighters, with tonnes of weapons and ammunition, to leave Raqqa and spread across Syria. Some ISIS members reached eastern Syria near the Iraqi border.

Recruiting in prisons

There are fears that the Iraqi prison conditions of thousands of detainees accused of having links to ISIS could lead to radicalisation, especially as the jails do not segregate suspected terrorists and other convicts.

At least 19,000 people are in prisons for terrorism-linked offences. More than 3,000 have been sentenced to death, an analysis by the Associated Press (AP) stated. About 100 people were hanged last year.

“The mass incarceration and speed of guilty verdicts raise concerns over potential miscarriages of justice — and worries that jailed militants are recruiting within the general prison population to build new extremist networks,” AP reported.

Some trials reportedly took less than 30 minutes.

“The Americans freed their captives [from 2003-11]; under Iraq, they will all receive the death penalty,” an Interior Ministry officer overseeing the detention of ISIS suspects in Mosul told AP on condition of anonymity.

“We are deeply alarmed by this report and the Iraqi authorities’ mass use of the death penalty and the courts’ reliance on torture-tainted ‘confessions’ to secure convictions,” Lynn Maalouf, Middle East research director at Amnesty International, said in a statement.

Even from a security perspective, human rights violations are likely to be counterproductive.

“It’s the tortures, the ill-treatments, the continuous long-term bad conditions in detentions which have radicalised a lot of actors which we find again as armed actors on the battlefield,” Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, told AP.

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