Anbar’s Cities are Free but Extremists still Shelter – And Attack – in Surrounding Desert
Every time extremists are forced out of Anbar’s cities they take refuge in nearby desert and attack again. Now it seems like the same guerilla war is starting again.
Plenty of effort has gone into pushing the extremist group known as the Islamic State out of major cities in the central Iraqi province of Anbar. And recently there have been a number of announcements that the city of Fallujah, formerly an Islamic State, or IS, group stronghold was now also free of the extremists.
However many of the locals left behind and soldiers still fighting in the area say that the battle is far from over. In fact, the real fight – to keep Anbar clear of extremists – may only just be beginning.
Anbar is a huge province and much of it is desert. There are also plenty of valleys and hills. And all of this provides excellent hiding places for groups like the Islamic State who may be switching to a more guerrilla style of warfare, given that their urban strongholds have been taken back and that the population in those strongholds has tended to turn against them because of their cruelty. It is very difficult for official armed forces to chase down extremist fighters in terrain like this.
In fact, the IS group would not be the first to seek shelter in Anbar’s back country. Since 2004, armed gangs like the IS group have set up training camps in Anbar’s desert – most significantly this included the IS group’s predecessor, Al Qaeda in Iraq. The camps have tended to be set up in the Wadi Horan and Rutba desert areas, turning the Euphrates River into a kind of natural border, separating militant camps from Anbar’s more populated areas.