Islamic State snipers kill two Iraqi soldiers in disputed city near Iranian border

Islamic State snipers kill two Iraqi soldiers in disputed city near Iranian border

Two Iraqi soldiers were reportedly killed by Islamic State (ISIS) snipers on Monday night in the Diyala province as the group appears to be regaining strength in disputed territories in the north of the country.

“Last night, Daesh snipers attacked an Iraqi army base killing two soldiers [in Sherk village] ,” Lieutenant Colonel Ahmed Mustafa of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces’ intelligence in Khanaqin told Rudaw on Tuesday, referring to the extremist group by its Arabic acronym.

Since its defeat in late 2017, ISIS has carried out regular attacks against Iraqi and Kurdish security forces in the northern provinces, including in Diyala near the Iranian border. In late July, an ISIS attack on Kurdish “Asayesh” security forces left four high-ranking officers dead and eight others wounded.

Mustafa, who monitors ISIS activities in the area, says that it is difficult to estimate the number of ISIS militants in and around Khanaqin, but he believes there are over 40 militants there and in nearby Jalawla.

Khanaqin is a disputed territory claimed by both Baghdad and Erbil. It was under control of the Peshmerga from 2014 until October 16, 2017, when Kurdish forces were forced out by an Iraqi offensive following the Kurdistan independence referendum, as they were from other disputed areas in the Kirkuk and Nineveh provinces. The result was a security vacuum between Iraqi and Kurdish lines that ISIS has been able to exploit.

ISIS remnants have returned to earlier insurgency tactics of ambushing security forces, kidnapping, executing suspected informants, and extorting money from vulnerable, rural populations in the disputed territories as well as near Mosul and desert areas near the Syrian border.

The Peshmerga, Iraqi army and Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF, also known as Hashd al-Shaabi) have launched several raids and operations against ISIS remnants in the region, yet the extremists remain active.

As part of the fourth phase of its “Will of Victory” operation to hunt down ISIS sleeper cells in the deserts of the western Anbar province, the Iraqi Defense Ministry announced on Sunday they had killed four ISIS militants.

“The aim of the operation is to clean the desert of Anbar from Islamic State sleeper cells,” the Iraqi Security Media Cell said in a statement on Saturday.

According to a report from the Pentagon Inspector General which covers April to late June, the US-led anti-ISIS coaliton known as Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) reported that ISIS in Iraq is attempting to expand its influence over populations in the Sunni-majority provinces north and west of Baghdad, including the Diyala province, and has reorganized its leadership and established safe havens in rural Sunni-majority areas.

Source: Rudaw