Over the past month there has been an increase in attacks by extremists in various parts of Iraq, but in particular, on the outskirts of cities that were previously controlled by the extremist group known as the Islamic State. “We have recorded dozens of terrorist activities in various parts of the country,” a senior officer in the defence ministry in Baghdad told NIQASH, off the record because he was not authorised to comment on the matter. “Especially on the outskirts of the liberated cities – east of Diyala, south of Kirkuk and in the Anbar desert as well as north of Salahaddin. We see it as a sign that the Islamic State has a plan to destabilize these cities.”
There have been surprise attacks on army patrols, ambushes on highways connecting cities and suicide bombers.
“Today the Islamic State group is very weak and it cannot launch large scale attacks in the way that it used to,” the senior officer explained. “The army is undertaking a wide scale operation to prevent the extremists from re-grouping but there are still hundreds of extremist fighters who are free and who wish to re-establish violence.”
Last week, soldiers were killed in an ambush on the highway between Balad Roz and Mandali, two towns in Diyala. In the same week a family was killed on the highway between Baghdad and Kirkuk. Both incidents were carried out by extremists disguised as members of the Iraqi military, pretending to be staffing fake checkpoints on the road.
There are two important points becoming clear after the uptick in attacks by the Islamic State, or IS, group. While Iraqi pro-government forces have made it their responsibility to secure cities and city centres, they have not been able to – or have neglected to – secure the outskirts. Having said that, securing population centres’ outskirts has always been an issue for government forces. Often these are desert or agricultural areas, which are difficult to control, and often the pro-government forces lack decent intelligence in these areas too.
Secondly, the fact that the IS group still has the ability and opportunity to launch attacks is worrying, especially after the overwhelming defeat they have suffered during the last year; they have clearly adapted to their new circumstances.