"Islamic State" in Iraq

Beware the jihadist hydra

Kurdish peshmerga in Iraq say that IS is rising like a phoenix from the ashes. The organisation is re-grouping to fill the void left by its quarrelling adversaries. Judit Neurink reports from Irbil and Mosul

A car bomb kills five in the Iraqi town of Tikrit. Iraqi troops call in air strikes on "Islamic State" (IS) tunnels in the Badush mountains. Four people are killed in the first deadly bombing in western Mosul since the city was liberated over a year ago. Meanwhile, Iraqi security forces say they have arrested 52 terror suspects in Mosul, including senior IS members. Three IS hideouts are destroyed and 10 militants are killed in Iraqi airstrikes on Diyala and Salahuddin provinces.

These are just a few examples of recent attacks carried out by or against the group. The declaration that IS was totally defeated in Iraq made by then Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi in December 2017 "was a lie," says Kurdish Major General Aziz Weysi Bani of the Zeravani forces.

These Kurdish special forces played an important role in the battle in Iraq against IS, which cost over 1,800 Kurdish fighters their lives. The Kurds teamed up with the Iraqi army and Shia militias on the ground, with the international coalition forces providing air cover and training.

Now Weysi is raising the alarm: IS is still a major threat, even more so because the world mistakenly thinks the group has been destroyed in Iraq and will soon be finished in Syria too. "Nobody understands the threat better than we do," he explained, citing experience and trustworthy intelligence.

Exploiting Iraqʹs political vacuum

In his headquarters in a corner of the airport in Kurdistan's capital Irbil, Weysi points out that IS – or Daesh as locals call it – thrived on the political conflicts inside Iraq and continues to do so.

Haider al-Abadi announces victory over IS during a press conference on 9 December 2017 (photo: picture-alliance/AP)
Lip service, nothing more: on 9 December 2017 Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced victory over IS. But the threat of a jihadist resurgence is far from over. On the contrary, fear of jihadists is growing among the population, especially in Mosul. The megacity was occupied by the terrorist group for three long years

Iraq's disillusioned Sunni minority feels let down by the Iraqi government, which is offering very little help in rebuilding their cities. After the initial euphoria that followed liberation, they are now dissatisfied with the Shia Hashd al-Shaabi militias that guard their areas, with kidnapping, extortion and insecurity part of their lives once more.

When the Iraqi army seized the disputed areas claimed by both Baghdad and the Kurds, but long under Kurdish control, in October 2017, Shia militias were put in charge of securing the territories.

"We don't trust them and they don't trust us enough to focus on Daesh," the general says about the militias. "And Daesh is exploiting the space, the vacuum. They have many tunnels to hide in, as there are many places the Iraqi army does not control and has never even visited."

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