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Where is new Islamic State stronghold in Iraq?

Where is new Islamic State stronghold in Iraq?

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  • LLL-GFATF-ISIS Islamic State ISIS is an Islamic extremist terrorist organization controlling territory in Iraq...[+]

 Affected Countries: iraq;

Sporadic ISIS attacks in Iraq once again caused a disaster and called the public attention to the dangers of the remnants of the terrorist group in the country.

According to security officials of Iraqi Kurdistan region, on Friday, ISIS fighters kidnapped three people from a village in Erbil outskirts and then in an ambush set for the Kurdish security forces killed 13.

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

Terrorist actions in these regions range from attacks on infrastructure like power grids and destruction of farms to destabilizing the intr-province routes, abduction, extortion, sectarian violence and occasional attacks on army and security forces’ posts, as well as bombings.

In the meantime, the important issue 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. The Friday attack is the fourth in a week on the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in the autonomous region.

In recent weeks, ISIS elements have intensified their operations in Kirkuk and Diyala provinces, with sources saying that similar actions were taken in the neighboring province of Nineveh to a lesser extent. A large-scale attack on the village of al-Khattab in the Qayyarah town southeast of Nineveh in early September, which killed 11 people, drew Baghdad attention to resurgent ISIS threat.

Interestingly, the main areas of ISIS’s presence and activity are the so-called “disputed areas” within control of Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Erbil seized Kirkuk and much of other disputed areas from ISIS in 2015 but following a dispute over KRG-arranged Kurdistan separation referendum in 2019, Baghdad’s army and PMF took control of Kirkuk and other contentious areas, undoing all Kurdish gains.

Local sources refer to the “Hamrin Mountains” and “Qara Chukh” mountain range in the south of Kirkuk and Diyala provinces as the most important bases and mountain hideouts of ISIS. Qara Chukh is a large mountain range located in Makhmur town southeast of Nineveh, and with a length of about 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 is 2,100 meters and has 9 heights, each of which has a name and has different 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 civil and military vehicles to advance.

Military officials in Baghdad have confirmed that the Qara Chukh mountain, straddling Kurdistan region and Nineveh province and categorized as an area of Baghdad-Erbil territorial dispute, has become a new safe haven for ISIS. It is believed that some elements of the group recently entered Iraq from Syria and took refuge in the mountains as a temporary shelter.

The mountain range contains caves, some natural and some dug recently by ISIS, and also deep vallies and vegetation.

Experts believe that the long-term presence of ISIS in large parts of Qara Chukh means strengthening of the mountainous region as a defensive fortress, and therefore the process of cleansing and controlling it should not be delayed any longer, as it could pose a threat to the whole Iraqi security.

Iraqi military experts and 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 army and security services.

The Friday attack triggered massive waves of reactions from Iraqi politicians. Meanwhile, what was emphasized the most was the need for Baghdad and Erbil to boost their cooperation and coordination in the disputed areas for effective counter of ISIS. Kurdish Prime Minister Masrour Barzani, for example, called for broader security cooperation with Iraqi security forces to check terrorist activities.

Actually, the existence of security loopholes in the disputed areas is a driving force behind ISIS renewed boost. Iraq retired Colonel Saad al-Hadithi, who is a security expert too, told Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed news website that one of the main reasons the mountains have become the focus of ISIS and its shelters is that they are located in the disputed regions. ISIS and other terrorist groups in Iraq, al-Hadithi continued, have benefited from this Baghdad-Erbil dispute since 2003.

One significant issue amid renewed ISIS attacks is the US attempt to make gains from the troubled Iraqi security situation. According to an agreement with Baghdad, Washington has to close down its bases in Iraq and pull out all of its forces.

But recent positions expressed by American officials conveyed no will for White House officials to implement the agreement. The attacks that come suspiciously coincident with the last days and weeks of the US presence in Iraq provided Washington with an excuse to announce readiness to continue security cooperation with Baghdad and Erbil.

What Iraq needs in its fight against ISIS more than sham US military support is intelligence and operational coordination and cooperation among its various armed forces. Erbil leaders’ resolve is specifically necessary for implementing this roadmap.

Source: Abna 24

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