Exclusive: ISIS in Iraq… A Growing Threat
In late 2017, Iraq announced the military defeat of ISIS after fighting battles that lasted about three years. The terrorist group had occupied Mosul in 2014, and expanded its presence to the provinces of Salah al-Din, Anbar, Kirkuk and Diyala.
Iraqi forces were able to put a military end to the ambitious ISIS “caliphate,” but failed to deal with the social environment the group had nestled for three years before its defeat.
With little to no funding being allocated to rebuilding areas liberated from ISIS and a reluctance among refugees to return to those areas the threat of a resurgence of the extremist group resurfaced. Western reports, especially those based in the US, indicate that the terrorist organization has gone back to representing a grave danger to Iraq.
Experts in Iraq agree this organization remains a threat that needs to be faced. Matching those concerns, last year, the Joint Iraqi Operations Command launched eight major military operations called the "Will to Victory" to counter the expansion of ISIS.
“ISIS has a well-rounded structure that survived, it is reminiscent of the group’s early days in the 2013-2014 period,” Iraqi militia expert Hisham al-Hashemi told Asharq Al-Awsat, adding that the terrorist group enjoys large funding and a broad network of operatives.
The expert added that ISIS had expanded to the countryside of urban cities, built camps and dug tunnels.
ISIS, according to al-Hashemi, has an active human force of 3,500 to 4,000 combatants deployed in about 11 operational sectors in western and northern Iraqi provinces.
“ISIS is trying to re-market itself in areas believed to have served as a land of empowerment for it,” security expert Fadel Abu Ragheef told Asharq Al-Awsat, saying the group is now fighting for its borders rather than cities.
Abu Ragheef added that ISIS now relies on the descendants of its slain fighters and its loyalist fugitives.