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09:16

Iraq: A year after defeat, IS 'remnants' leave trail of victims across Iraq

September 05, 2018 at 09:32 GMT +00:00 · Published

The aftershocks triggered by the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS; formerly ISIS/ISIL) could still be felt across Iraq, even though it's been over a year since the Iraqi government declared its final victory over IS fighters in the country.

Fears of an IS comeback are only made more real as a trail of victims is left behind - killings, kidnappings and abductions are making their way to the headlines, suggesting they are a new IS tactic to instill fear among Iraqi civilians.

Nidaa Syan Najem lost her son and husband as she witnessed one such attack on July 5, 2018, when she and her family were returning home after a wedding party. At an unmanned checkpoint on the road between the town of Behruz (25 kilometers from the capital) and Baghdad, the family's car was surrounded by masked gunmen. The situation only escalated as family members admitted they were Shiites.

Najem recalled how the night unravelled, saying: "It was quarter to nine at night. Abu Mohammad was the only one who sat down, and they shot the others. They did not have time to sit down, nor did they check their identity cards. When they were standing, those who shot them was not just one person, but [there were] six or seven of them. Immediately, after a matter of minutes they were laying in the street. And you know, we are women and we started crying that we lost our families, so they started shouting at us saying that we are Rawafed (rejectionists), dogs, and that they are the Islamic State in Iraq. They left, and we were women and children in the car."

After all the men present were killed, the women tried to reach out for help, which only arrived hours later, according to Najem.

"It took the [security] forces four hours until they reached us. They were afraid the car was booby trapped so they were afraid to get close to it; exactly four hours till the [security] forces reached us, while we were on the road. But we had not seen them yet. We did not know whether we should wait for news that we should flee, we did not know," Najem said.

She added that upon their arrival, security forces claimed that the checkpoint where the tragic incident took place was manned and the road secured from both sides.

"We did not know about the checkpoint. We entered this road without knowing that this road is dangerous. [Those who are at] the checkpoint are to blame. We know that they have information whether to tighten [security] and know whether the road is dangerous," she added.

Bassem Abbas is the brother of yet another man killed by IS in Kirkuk. He had found himself in the middle of a negotiation with IS, who had abducted his brother and demanded that the Iraqi government release a female Sunni prisoner in return.

"[My brother] was kidnapped at a fake checkpoint by the international terrorists of IS. They negotiated releasing him in exchange for the release of a Sunni women that is being held by the Iraqi government, but the Iraqi government was unable to present any sort of solution. The issue reached the point where the negotiations were held directly between me and the damned international terrorists of IS. I could not reach an agreement with them to release the Sunni women in return for the release of my brother Saeed al-Shaheed, my cousin Abbas, and my friend - who is like my brother - Waleed, who are all three neighbors," Abbas recounted.

He went on to add that the threat IS still poses in Iraq is real. Like Najem, Abbas believes the Iraqi authorities are failing to confront that threat.

He said: "The international terrorists IS are organised, not just four or five scattered members, and they have a bad faith, which they hold on to. Eliminating them will happen God willing. But if the situation remains the same with the same leaders, which brought the fall of the western provinces, it might also bring the fall of our provinces. Because those leaders are failures and worthless. They are cartoon leaders, making statements and conferences, but doing nothing on the ground."

On July 23, Kurdish security forces killed gunmen armed with AK-47 and grenades who stormed a government building in Erbil, with one of them carrying out a suicide bombing. The attack was blamed on IS.

Although other incidents, including the July 5 checkpoint incident, were not as high profile as the one in the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, those left behind implore the authorities to take simple measures to secure the lives of civilians amidst the spate of attacks.

Mother of Raed Saeed al-Shammari, another IS victim said: "I still implore the government, since I am lost, and there is not even a government. People are being killed in vain, heads of families who have children. They have four children, they have four children, Raed has 4 children. What was their fault? And I am a mother of a martyr, so I have two martyrs, what is left for me? All I have left is Ahmad, and this one is ill, this one opposite you is ill, he is ill."

Despite a plethora of similar reports against the backdrop of ongoing operations against IS, Iraqi Army officials insist the organisation has been defeated and play down the fears of a comeback, as spokesperson of the Iraqi Joint Operations Command Yahia Rasoul affirmed to Ruptly.

"After the military victory over IS and the liberation of all Iraqi territories, what is left are some remnants and cells of this terrorist organisation in scattered areas of Iraq, among them are the mountain range and the desert areas and the areas of the Hawija Basin. What we are working on is to intensify the intelligence efforts and the proactive operation, where we continuously conduct operations of searches, raids, capturing and eliminating what remains from these cells and the remnants of this terrorist organisation," Rasoul said.

Rasoul claims that the attacks are part of a "media campaign" spearheaded by IS to spread the message that the organisation is still alive.

This contradicts statements by Pentagon spokespersons, who told various news outlets in the middle of August that these IS remnants still have significant financial supplies and ammunition and are in fact "well-positioned to rebuild."

But Rasoul seems to reject these claims: "[IS] have lost everything. They didn't have and will not have the ability to control territories, specific parts of territories or an area. So what they are doing is an attempt to send messages to the media that they still exist, by conducting terrorist attacks against innocent civilians or against certain sectors, but all these attacks, the majority of them, are eliminated even before they are carried out, by the military and due to intelligence efforts. Those attempts are in fact pathetic and desperate."

According to a UN report, dated 16 July, 2018: "Despite the damage to bureaucratic structures of the so-called "caliphate," the collective discipline of IS is "intact" and so are its "general security and finance bureaus."

The battles in the field, with IS resorting to guerilla tactics to launch its attacks, are only one of the components of the struggle against the organisation. As Rasoul says, there are still those who adhere to the IS ideology, and the fight against that requires a concerted effort by the army, the government and civil society.

Until that really happens, Najem, Abbas and al-Shammari's mother might not be the last Iraqis to mourn losing their loved ones to the hands of IS.

With the US Pentagon estimating that at least 17,000 IS fighters are still operating in Iraq -a number that the United Nations believes is true - reports of deadly attacks and kidnappings will probably continue to surface.

09:16
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Description

The aftershocks triggered by the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS; formerly ISIS/ISIL) could still be felt across Iraq, even though it's been over a year since the Iraqi government declared its final victory over IS fighters in the country.

Fears of an IS comeback are only made more real as a trail of victims is left behind - killings, kidnappings and abductions are making their way to the headlines, suggesting they are a new IS tactic to instill fear among Iraqi civilians.

Nidaa Syan Najem lost her son and husband as she witnessed one such attack on July 5, 2018, when she and her family were returning home after a wedding party. At an unmanned checkpoint on the road between the town of Behruz (25 kilometers from the capital) and Baghdad, the family's car was surrounded by masked gunmen. The situation only escalated as family members admitted they were Shiites.

Najem recalled how the night unravelled, saying: "It was quarter to nine at night. Abu Mohammad was the only one who sat down, and they shot the others. They did not have time to sit down, nor did they check their identity cards. When they were standing, those who shot them was not just one person, but [there were] six or seven of them. Immediately, after a matter of minutes they were laying in the street. And you know, we are women and we started crying that we lost our families, so they started shouting at us saying that we are Rawafed (rejectionists), dogs, and that they are the Islamic State in Iraq. They left, and we were women and children in the car."

After all the men present were killed, the women tried to reach out for help, which only arrived hours later, according to Najem.

"It took the [security] forces four hours until they reached us. They were afraid the car was booby trapped so they were afraid to get close to it; exactly four hours till the [security] forces reached us, while we were on the road. But we had not seen them yet. We did not know whether we should wait for news that we should flee, we did not know," Najem said.

She added that upon their arrival, security forces claimed that the checkpoint where the tragic incident took place was manned and the road secured from both sides.

"We did not know about the checkpoint. We entered this road without knowing that this road is dangerous. [Those who are at] the checkpoint are to blame. We know that they have information whether to tighten [security] and know whether the road is dangerous," she added.

Bassem Abbas is the brother of yet another man killed by IS in Kirkuk. He had found himself in the middle of a negotiation with IS, who had abducted his brother and demanded that the Iraqi government release a female Sunni prisoner in return.

"[My brother] was kidnapped at a fake checkpoint by the international terrorists of IS. They negotiated releasing him in exchange for the release of a Sunni women that is being held by the Iraqi government, but the Iraqi government was unable to present any sort of solution. The issue reached the point where the negotiations were held directly between me and the damned international terrorists of IS. I could not reach an agreement with them to release the Sunni women in return for the release of my brother Saeed al-Shaheed, my cousin Abbas, and my friend - who is like my brother - Waleed, who are all three neighbors," Abbas recounted.

He went on to add that the threat IS still poses in Iraq is real. Like Najem, Abbas believes the Iraqi authorities are failing to confront that threat.

He said: "The international terrorists IS are organised, not just four or five scattered members, and they have a bad faith, which they hold on to. Eliminating them will happen God willing. But if the situation remains the same with the same leaders, which brought the fall of the western provinces, it might also bring the fall of our provinces. Because those leaders are failures and worthless. They are cartoon leaders, making statements and conferences, but doing nothing on the ground."

On July 23, Kurdish security forces killed gunmen armed with AK-47 and grenades who stormed a government building in Erbil, with one of them carrying out a suicide bombing. The attack was blamed on IS.

Although other incidents, including the July 5 checkpoint incident, were not as high profile as the one in the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, those left behind implore the authorities to take simple measures to secure the lives of civilians amidst the spate of attacks.

Mother of Raed Saeed al-Shammari, another IS victim said: "I still implore the government, since I am lost, and there is not even a government. People are being killed in vain, heads of families who have children. They have four children, they have four children, Raed has 4 children. What was their fault? And I am a mother of a martyr, so I have two martyrs, what is left for me? All I have left is Ahmad, and this one is ill, this one opposite you is ill, he is ill."

Despite a plethora of similar reports against the backdrop of ongoing operations against IS, Iraqi Army officials insist the organisation has been defeated and play down the fears of a comeback, as spokesperson of the Iraqi Joint Operations Command Yahia Rasoul affirmed to Ruptly.

"After the military victory over IS and the liberation of all Iraqi territories, what is left are some remnants and cells of this terrorist organisation in scattered areas of Iraq, among them are the mountain range and the desert areas and the areas of the Hawija Basin. What we are working on is to intensify the intelligence efforts and the proactive operation, where we continuously conduct operations of searches, raids, capturing and eliminating what remains from these cells and the remnants of this terrorist organisation," Rasoul said.

Rasoul claims that the attacks are part of a "media campaign" spearheaded by IS to spread the message that the organisation is still alive.

This contradicts statements by Pentagon spokespersons, who told various news outlets in the middle of August that these IS remnants still have significant financial supplies and ammunition and are in fact "well-positioned to rebuild."

But Rasoul seems to reject these claims: "[IS] have lost everything. They didn't have and will not have the ability to control territories, specific parts of territories or an area. So what they are doing is an attempt to send messages to the media that they still exist, by conducting terrorist attacks against innocent civilians or against certain sectors, but all these attacks, the majority of them, are eliminated even before they are carried out, by the military and due to intelligence efforts. Those attempts are in fact pathetic and desperate."

According to a UN report, dated 16 July, 2018: "Despite the damage to bureaucratic structures of the so-called "caliphate," the collective discipline of IS is "intact" and so are its "general security and finance bureaus."

The battles in the field, with IS resorting to guerilla tactics to launch its attacks, are only one of the components of the struggle against the organisation. As Rasoul says, there are still those who adhere to the IS ideology, and the fight against that requires a concerted effort by the army, the government and civil society.

Until that really happens, Najem, Abbas and al-Shammari's mother might not be the last Iraqis to mourn losing their loved ones to the hands of IS.

With the US Pentagon estimating that at least 17,000 IS fighters are still operating in Iraq -a number that the United Nations believes is true - reports of deadly attacks and kidnappings will probably continue to surface.

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