Iraq launches another offensive against ISIS, why? - analysis

The operation to root out ISIS remnants is being called “Will of Victory” and was announced on Sunday by the Security Media information cell of the government.

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July 8, 2019 17:18
2 minute read.
Shi'ite Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) advance towards the city of Al-Qaim, Iraq November 3, 2017

Shi'ite Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) advance towards the city of Al-Qaim, Iraq November 3, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS/STRINGER)

 
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Almost two years after Iraqi forces were able to retake Mosul from ISIS and largely defeated the organization on the ground, Iraq is launching yet another offensive to root out ISIS remnants. The operation is being called “Will of Victory” and was announced Sunday by the Security Media information cell of the government.

According to Rudaw, a Kurdish media outlet, the operation is being led by different Iraqi army units, backed by the Popular Mobilization Forces, or Hashd al-Shaabi. The latter are a group of mostly Shi’ite militias that are now official paramilitaries within the security forces. Sunni tribal forces are also participating.

The concept is to throw a large net around ISIS sleeper cells in Iraq. The army and its paramilitary supporters will try to root out ISIS remnants in a vast triangle of open desert between Mosul city in Nineveh, Anbar province on the border with Syria and Saladin province in central Iraq. This is an area that has been restive since the US invasion of 2003 and where various Sunni insurgents, jihadists and other extremist groups like ISIS have operated.

It is not a surprise, therefore, that Iraq has had to conduct yet another large scale operation, the question is whether this symbolizes Iraq’s operational successes and victories against ISIS, or whether it means ISIS is on the rise again. Since ISIS was largely defeated in the fall of 2017 in Iraq, there have been concerns that its networks have regrown. At the same time, ISIS was not defeated in Syria until March of this year. In Syria, there are tens of thousands of pro-ISIS detainees, many of them foreigners and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are still struggling with what to do with them.

For instance, across the border from Anbar, the SDF is seriously concerned about ISIS sleeper cells. Nuri Mahmoud of the People’s Protection Units, a part of the SDF, gave a speech on July 7 in which he said that military operations can only go so far in defeating ISIS, the goal has to be to defeat the ideology at multiple levels.

In Iraq, the security forces are operating more like a hammer, without much attempt to address the ideology. This may be compounded by the fact that Shi’ite paramilitaries won’t ever have any inroads into ISIS-dominated rural areas, and can only operate as a kind of occupying security force against a partly hostile local group of people. ISIS has exploited this over the years, not only since 2013 in Iraq, but before that when ISIS existed in different incarnations of Sunni jihadist extremism.

However, Iraqi security forces have scored successes in their operations since 2017. In this latest round, Ali Baroodi, an academic from Mosul, tweeted that the widespread attack on ISIS sleeper cells west of Mosul had resulted in the discovery of 50 hiding places of ISIS that were destroyed.

“This operation is the biggest since the liberation of Mosul,” he wrote.

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