An American statement after ISIS escalates its attacks in Iraq

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A noticeable escalation of the activity of the Islamic State (ISIS) in areas adjacent to the Kurdistan region of Iraq in less than a week, in an indication of the extremist organization’s exploitation of the security “lack of coordination” in the disputed areas between Baghdad and Erbil, according to analysts and officials.

The most violent of these attacks took place at dawn on Friday in Makhmour district, killing at least 13 people, including three villagers and ten soldiers of the Peshmerga forces.

Makhmour district, 70 km southeast of Mosul and 60 km southwest of Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region, is a major point of activity for ISIS, and witnesses regular attacks on Kurdish and Iraqi forces and often civilians.

Before that, five Peshmerga were killed and four others were wounded in the explosion of an explosive device targeting their military vehicle, on the night of Saturday-Sunday.

An official statement said on Sunday that the attack targeted “a force that was heading to support, following an attack by the Islamic State against the Peshmerga in the town of Lula Joy, in the Garmian district,” north of Diyala province, south of the Kurdistan region.

Iraqi officials and analysts blamed ISIS’s continued bloody attacks on a lack of cooperation in a patch of land claimed by both the federal and regional government.

absent cooperation

The Secretary-General of the Ministry of Peshmerga, Jabbar Al-Yawar, said that “the lack of cooperation in the field of joint operations between the Peshmerga and the Iraqi forces” in the disputed areas is one of the main reasons for the escalation of attacks.

In an interview with Al-Hurra website, Al-Yawar added that the lack of cooperation does not only include areas that are subject to repeated attacks, but rather “on a 500-kilometre long line that extends from Khanaqin in Diyala province on the Iranian border to Suhaila areas near the Syrian border.”

“This lack of coordination has caused a complete absence of security forces on both sides in areas up to 40 kilometers deep and about 20 kilometers long,” according to Al-Yawer.

The Kurdish military official says that ISIS has used these areas as safe havens for training, storing weapons and equipment, and launching attacks against the Peshmerga and Iraqi forces alike.

The most prominent areas devoid of security forces, and where ISIS elements are deployed, extend from Jabal Qara Chogh, and areas west of Kirkuk in Hawija and Abbasi, in addition to the Dabsin district, and vast areas, between the districts of Kifri and Tuz Khurmatu, southwest of Kirkuk.

ISIS also exploits the rugged terrain of the Hamrin hills, which extends from north of Diyala to south of Mosul, as well as areas in Qaljo district and Jalawla district in Diyala, which are distinguished by their dense orchards and the spread of water bodies that ISIS elements exploit in disguise.

The organization has not claimed responsibility for the attack yet.

ISIS regularly attacks security forces and civilians in the area from time to time.

Iraqi officials called for rapid action to confront these attacks.

The President of the Republic, Barham Salih, described the attack in a Kurdish language as “dangerous developments… and that confronting them is our duty at the present time, while strengthening coordination between the Peshmerga and the Iraqi army to root out terrorism and establish stability in the region.”

The President of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Masrour Barzani, stressed the importance of “cooperation between the Peshmerga, the Iraqi army and the international coalition as soon as possible” to confront ISIS and stop its attacks.

Barzani said, “The Kurdistan Regional Government affirms its readiness to enhance any cooperation and coordination to combat terrorism and stabilize the situation in Iraq in general, and the areas exposed to ISIS attacks in particular.”

None of the Iraqi military officials responded to Al Hurra’s calls for comment.

The Joint Operations Command said in a statement that “great coordination and cooperation continues between the Iraqi army and the Peshmerga forces in the provinces of Diyala, Kirkuk and Nineveh.” She promised that this cooperation would “take on broader dimensions” in the future.

‘Deep disagreements’

Security expert Fadel Abu Ragheef believes that differences are deep in the disputed areas between the Iraqi forces and the Peshmerga forces over who “holds the land.”

Abu Ragheef added to Al-Hurra website that “there are previous understandings between the region and the center and between the Peshmerga and joint operations, but they do not meet the ambition,” stressing at the same time, “we need greater understandings and coordination so as not to allow the organization to exploit soft places and disputes to launch its attacks.”

The past years witnessed mutual assurances from Iraqi and Kurdish officials regarding the conclusion of understandings related to the disputed areas and the management of the file in them.

Al-Yawar points out that “there are joint coordination centers in Diyala, Makhmour, Kirkuk, Baghdad and Erbil, but they are only for the exchange of intelligence information, coordination between forces, the passage of military convoys, and the handing over of wanted persons, and not in the field of carrying out joint military operations.”

He shows that “the security vacuum occurred at the end of 2017, after the central government asked the Peshmerga forces to withdraw from all the disputed areas,” adding that “clashes between the Iraqi forces and the Peshmerga forced the latter to withdraw from those areas.”

However, Al-Yawar confirms that “many meetings were held recently with the Joint Operations Command to find a solution,” adding, “There will be agreements soon to launch joint military operations or form joint patrols.”

It was also agreed to form two joint brigades from the army and the Peshmerga to be deployed in this area, according to al-Yawer.

But he indicated that “the process is progressing slowly,” noting at the same time that the recent attacks of ISIS “will have a significant impact on accelerating the step.”

Although the Iraqi authorities announced the defeat of the Islamic State at the end of 2017, after taking control of a third of the country, extremist cells still carry out attacks from time to time, not only in the disputed areas.

Western military officials say at least 10,000 Islamic State fighters remain in Iraq and Syria.

A United Nations report published last February indicated that “ISIS maintains a large secret presence in Iraq and Syria, and wages a continuous insurgency on both sides of the border between the two countries, with its extension over the territories it previously controlled.”

The attacks will continue

The Iraqi security expert, Amir Al-Saadi, believes that ISIS attacks will continue, “unless the security services can develop their capabilities, especially in the field of intelligence information, to pursue the organization in those areas, at least.”

Al-Saadi told Al-Hurra that “Makhmur and the rest of the disputed areas are geographically complex and have difficult terrain, with which the deployment of federal forces or Peshmerga does not work.”

Al-Saadi asserts that ISIS is also exploiting political differences, instability, and ethnic, sectarian and national problems, to strengthen its attacks.

“We need advanced technologies to control the organization’s movements in the region,” he added. “We also need greater cooperation between the Peshmerga and the Iraqi army and the efforts of the United States, which has already carried out many effective strikes against ISIS,” he added.

Al-Saadi shows that Iraq needs “Washington, at least temporarily, to confront ISIS, by taking advantage of the high and advanced technologies and satellites owned by the United States” to help reveal the organization’s locations.

The international coalition has provided support to the Iraqi forces in their war against the Islamic State since 2014, and includes 3,500 military personnel, including 2,500 Americans, whose mission will turn into a completely “advisory” and “training” by the end of the year.







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