The Islamic State Group Lives On – in Iraq’s Deserts

This article was originally published by Niqash. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Anbar’s western desert is a hiding place for the Islamic State group, locals say. And they fear the extremists will be back as soon as an opportunity presents itself.

Last week the Iraqi government declared victory over the extremist group known as the Islamic State. But, according to locals and military personnel living in the Anbar province, that declaration was premature.

“I have seen no genuine indications that this province is rid of the Islamic State group,” says Ayad al-Nimrawi, a 43-year-old who runs a restaurant in the Kilo area, about 160 kilometres along the road between Baghdad and the Syrian-Jordanian border. “I still see commercial trucks accompanied by security details when they come along here. Even the security forces cannot travel down here alone, they require extra protection.”

“I will only feel that we have won the final victory when I see life returning to this road as it was before the Islamic State came. We used to travel here at night without any fear of armed groups but today this international road is almost completely closed. As soon as dusk falls, this road is a death trap.”

The victory celebrations were not about the complete eradication of the IS group, rather they were meant to be a signal about the end of military operations, suggests Tariq Yusef al-Asal, a police chief and one of the leaders of Anbar’s tribal militias fighting the Islamic State. “We have the right to be proud of the victories achieved by our security forces in the fighting that’s gone on over three years,” he told NIQASH. “We have sovereignty over our land again.”

However, he adds, “it would be stupid to say that Iraq is now completely clean of extremist groups like the Islamic State. There are still sleeper cells and incubators inside and outside our cities.”

“No country – not even European nations – can claim they are completely clean of Islamic State members,” he continued. “Those sleeper cells will keep the organisation alive and sustain it. These groups make good use of any security vacuum in any country to try and achieve their aims.”

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